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Translated by Heinz Norden

Publication in English of this classic of

biography is a cultural milestone for the
art lover, the historian, and the thought-
ful reader. The significance of this long-
awaited event has been celebrated in
these words by the Virginia Kirkus
Service, America's most respected pre
publication book reviewer:

"The monumental Michelangelo of

Denmark's Georg Brandes was published
in Europe over forty years ago; now at
last we have it on these shores, excellently
translated in a somewhat abridged, re-
vised and illustrated edition. It is a work
of rare erudition and eloquence, a study
in the grand manner, combining the dis-
cipline of aesthetics, history and psychol-
ogy, fully encompassing the furioso of the
master, yet remaining a cool, clear-eyed,
highly controlled commentary. It portrays
~Iichelangelo as a proud, passionate,
brute-faced man who worshipped "beauty
everlasting"; to him man's body was the
pinnacle of being, thus he immortalized
it in stone. And when, at rare moments,
he loved, h<' tormented and consumed
himsC'lf in yearning. The Brandes text
covers the ~fedici circle, Florence and
Rome, the relationships with Tommaso
and Vittoria, the Julius Tomb, the Sistine
Chapel, the meeting with Da Vinci,
~lichelangelo's old age and Christian

continued on back flap


by Georg Brandes
Translated and with a Foreword

by Heinz Norden

With 24 halftone plates

Frederick Ungar Publishing Co New Yark


8 '('I

Copyright 1963 by Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc.

Authorized edition, by arrangement with

the original Danish publishers
Gyldendal, Copenhagen

Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 63-8848

Designer: Ernst Reichl

Translator's Foreword

JN AN AGE when even literary works considered great at the

time they are published fall into desuetude within a dozen years,
it is not often that a biography retains its freshness and authority
for more than a generation. Such a judgment may be passed, how-
ever, on Georg Brandes' Michelangelo: His Life, His Times, His
Era, first published in 192i.
Not that it is, in the original version, free of flaws. In minor
respects-quotations, references, and the like-the great Danish
scholar nodded at times; and there are many occasions when he
lapses into irrelevance and needless discursiveness. It is these
iv Translators Foreword
irksome blemishes that have kept the work from being offered in
an English version.
They have here, we are confident, been removed, to the end
of presenting an account of the great Florentine artist meant to
be both readable and reliable, while seeking to rival neither such
monumental treatments as Charles de Tolnay's or Henry Thode's,
nor some recent romanticized journalistic efforts.
J. A. Symonds' oft-reprinted Life and Works of Michelangelo
Buonarroti still makes pleasant reading, but is completely out of
date, never having been revised since its first appearance in i893.
Herman Grimm's Life of Michelangelo, published thirty years
earlier, is perhaps more satisfactory; but one can scarcely expect
a monograph written a hundred years ago not to have been super-
seded, in many aspects, by more recent researches. Romain Rol-
land's Michelangelo, dating back to i914 and available in a good
English translation, is of little use to serious students. Erwin
Panofsky pointed out its shortcomings forty years ago.
In paring and preparing this text for publication, publisher
and translator are deeply indebted to the counsel of Ludwig Gold-
scheider, author of several noted works about Michelangelo, who
has also written the article on Michelangelo in the forthcoming
new edition of the Encyclop::edia Britannica. His judgment is re-
flected on almost every page of this English version of Brandes'
While the present version departs in some instances from
Brandes' original, it is primarily by emendation. Very little had to
be amended. Grounded as perhaps few others in a sweeping view
of European art and culture, Brandes saw nothing in isolation,
everything in context; and his critical judgments and insights re-
main as valid and meaningful today as when they were written.
In his words the sublime, tortured figure of Michelangelo comes
alive as never before nor since.
Georg Brandes was born in Copenhagen and died there in i927
at the age of eighty-five. As a young man he planned a book on
Florentine drawings, but abandoned the project after he had be-

Translator's Foreword v
come acquainted with the achievements of Bernard Berenson.
He was Professor of Aesthetics at the University of Copenhagen,
lecturing mainly on modern literature. He is best known for his
Main Currents in Nineteenth-Century Literature, a work now
almost forgotten, which exerted enormous influence in its time.
He wrote several biographies-of Julius Caesar, Voltaire and
Disraeli-but his book on Michelangelo is beyond doubt his bi-
ographical masterpiece.
The present English version is based on the German edition,
credited to Ernst Richard Eckert as translator. Brandes, however,
spent many years in Germany himself (where he was strongly in-
fluenced by Nietzsche) and spoke German fluently. Indeed, his
own influence on German culture was perhaps deeper and cer-
tainly more extensive than in his native Denmark.
Without any prejudice to Eckert, therefore, it may be con-
fidently assumed that the German edition of his work is as au-
thentic as the Danish, directly reflecting Brandes' thinking and
style without any language barrier. It is the translator's hope that
none has been erected here.
More than twenty of Michelangelo's several hundred poems
are cited in this biography. In a few instances literal prose trans-
lations meet the biographer's purpose, but on nineteen occasions
it seemed appropriate to attempt to give the English-speaking
reader an inkling of Michelangelo as a poet.
Translations of poems are always a parlous undertaking, far
more so than in the case of prose. It is difficult enough to render
meaning and style. Add meter and rhyme, and the task often be-
comes all but impossible. Hence the old dictum that translations
are like women applies particularly to poetry-the beautiful ones
are not faithful, and the faithful not beautiful.
Michelangelo the poet offers problems of his own-the very
problems of Michelangelo the man and the artist. In many ways,
he remains to this day the most compelling poet Italy ever pro-
duced. The polished verse of Petrarca has little to say to us today,
but Michelangelo, in the words of his contemporary, Sebastiano
vi Translator's Foreword
del Piombo, "says things, while others merely speak words."
The question of whether he was a "minor poet," as even
Brandes, despite his deep appreciation, seems at times to imply-
while others have said so outright-is utterly beside the point.
Michelangelo's poetic output may have been uneven-what poet's
is not? and he himself was modest about it, going so far as to call
it "indigestible rubbish"-but it is in fact marked by the same
surging, violent power, the bitter austerity, like bleached bones,
of his sculpture and his drawings, and it is as much the man.
We read here that his poems passed from hand to hand, that
some were set to music in his lifetime, and that whole academic
discourses were held on them. Is it conceivable that this was
solely because he was then held in such awe as a divine artist?
Burckhardt later held Michelangelo's poetry in low esteem; and
the early translators seem to have rendered it as through a ro-
mantic haze, mainly on the devout premise that everything a
great man does, even in a minor key, is of note.
Rilke thought otherwise; and this affinity to the modern poetic
idiom is both highly significant and not yet sufficiently recognized,
as in the case of much of his art.
For the baffling aspects of Michelangelo's poetry are shared by
the sculptures and drawings of his maturity-their fragmentary,
half-finished character, their furious striving for expression, rather
than impression. He would make four or five successive versions
of a poem, but the roughnesses would remain, much as they did
in Rembrandt's later etchings, worked over into state after state.
The parallel to the late Michelangelo Pietas is inescapable.
The longer he worked on them, the more "unfinished" they grew.
His hammer struck whole chunks out of them-and the ruins are
more powerful than ever. They shout to us from two right arms,
a missing leg, a throat still stuck in the stone.
This paroxysmic quality is conspicuously lacking in many of
the English renderings of Michelangelo's poems that have been
made-by Wordsworth, Longfellow, Symonds, Newell, Hall and
others-most of which, moreover, besides being merely "pretty,"

Trans7.ator's Foreword vii
have become dated, like old dress patterns. This, by the way, is
true also of the German translations by Sophie Hasenclever,
which Brandes used.
In the case of the sonnets, the translations by Elizabeth Jen-
nings, published in 1961 by the Folio Society, London, perhaps
come closest to capturing Michelangelo's harsh elegance; and
ten of them are here reproduced in whole or part, by permis-
sion (pp. 326-7, 338, 33g-40, 344, 352, 353, 371, 374, 375). For
most of the remaining poems given, the present translator has
prepared new versions (pp. 155, 304-5, 329, 332, 335, 336, 376,
381-2). In one instance (p. 337) a translation by Joseph Tusiani
has been used (The Complete Poems of Michelangelo, Noonday
Press, New York, i960).
In the chapter on Michelangelo's drawings (pp. 355-380) re-
peated reference is made to Berenson, the full title being The
Drawings of the Florentine Painters (Amplified Edition, three
volumes, Chicago, 1938; new edition, Milan, 1962), by Bernard
Berenson; while there is occasional reference to Frey-Die Hand-
zeichnungen Michelagniolos Buonarroti (three volumes, Berlin,
19og-19n), by Karl Frey. One reference is also made to Hill.
This is George Francis Hill, A Corpus of Italian Medals of the
Renaissance before Cellini (two volumes, London, 1930). The
representative selection of illustrations in the present volume is
perhaps best supplemented by the more than six hundred re-
productions in Ludwig Goldscheider's Michelangelo Drawings
and Michelangelo-Paintings, Sculpture, Architecture ( Phaidon
Press, 1951 and 1953).

January, 1963


Prelude l

Florence 22
Rome 64
Early Youth in Florence 113
First Sojourn in Rome 141
Second Sojourn in Florence 151
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 193
The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel 250
Michelangelo and Raphael 276
The Medici Chapel 295
Poems and Letters 325
The Draftsman 355
The Last Judgment 381
The Architect 401

Self-Portrait at the Age of Eighty
Detail from the "Pieta" in the Florence Cathedral FRONTISPIECE

The Madonna of the Stairs

Marble relief. Florence, Casa Buonarotti FACING PAGE 18

Pieta ("The Mourning over the Dead Christ"). 1498-99

Rome, St. Peter's 19

David. 1501-04
Florence, Academy of Fine Arts 82

Engraving after Mfohelangelo's lost cartoon "The Battle

of Cascina" (also called "The Bathers"). 1504-05 83

Detail from the fresco "The Deluge." 1509 83

God Dividing Light from Darkness

A section of the Sistine ceiling frescoes. 1511 114

Head of one of the twenty-six "Slaves"

of the Sistine ceiling frescoes. 1509 115
Head of the Lybian Sibyl. 1511
Sistine Chapel ceiling 146

The Prophet Jeremiah. 1511

Sistine Chapel ceiling 147
Mother and Children
Detail from "The Deluge." 1509
Sistine Chapel ceiling 178

Lorenzo de Medici, Duke of Urbino. 1524-34

Florence, San Lorenzo, Medici Chapel 179

Detail from the fresco
"God Dividing the Waters from the Earth." 1511
Sistine Chapel ceiling 210

Statue of the "Julius Monument.'' 1513-16
Rome, San Pietro in Vincoli 211

Venus, Mars and Cupid ("Zenobia"). c. 1525

Florence, Uffizi 242
Head of the Dying Slave
Detail from the "Julius Monument." 1514-16
Paris, Louvre 243
Head of Moses
Rome, San Pietro in Vincoli 274

Christ as Judge, and the Holy Virgin

Detail from the fresco "The Last Judgment." 1526-41
Rome, Sistine Chapel 275

The Night
Detail from the Tomb of Giuliano de Medici. 1526-31
Florence, San Lorenzo, Medici Chapel 306
A Damned Soul
Detail from the fresco "The Last Judgment." i536-41
Rome, Sistine Chapel 307
Detail from the fresco "The Conversion
of Saint Paul."1542-45
Rome, Pauline Chapel 370
Christ on the Cross with Saint John and
the Holy Virgin. c. i558
London, British Museum 371

The Rondanini Pieta. i555-64

Milan, Sforza Castel 402
The Cupola of St. Peter's. i546-64
Rome 403
Genealogical Table of the Medici Family
and List of Popes and Rulers 425

w HOEVER FIRST VISITS ROME, on a journey to Italy, will

see from far off in the Campagna the dome of St. Peter's, rising
above the world city like an emblem, soaring aloft-questa cupola,
fairest on earth, more beautiful than the two without which it
could not have been conceived: the domes of the Pantheon in
Rome and of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.
This dome Michelangelo designed, had modeled in wood,
when he was past eighty. He never saw it finished-any more
than Brunelleschi saw the completion of his Florentine dome,
Beethoven heard the Ninth Symphony, or Napoleon beheld the
Arc de l'Etoile. It was Giacomo della Porta who built the dome
2 Michelangelo
of St. Peter's. In the course of the centuries it developed more
than a hundred cracks, which had to be repaired or covered with
sheet iron. They were not Michelangelo's fault.
The majestic sweep of arched lines that stamp this greatest and
highest dome in the world we owe to the master himself.
The secret of the singular effect of beauty this edifice exerts
rests in its perfect union of form and architecture.
We know that the Roman C~pitol in its modern form is, in
every essential, Michelangelo's work as well; but for the Age of
the Renaissance St. Peter's was what the Capitol was for An-
tiquity-the place from which Rome was ruled.

Yet the full mastery which Michelangelo unfolded in Rome

was primarily that of the painter. Within a single building, the
Sistine Chapel, he did the largest and most important work of
his life, the ceiling decorations, an everlasting fount of genius,
brimming with youthful vigor and mature virility; and again, a
generation later, the painting of the Last Judgment, that token of
matchless creative skill, coupled with a revulsion of man stronger
even than that which found poetic expression in the work of the
other great Florentine, in Dante's Inferno. More powerfully than
in the Divine Comedy sorrow and terror here divert interest from
the paradisiac. The souls risen from the tomb to enter upon the
Kingdom of Heaven-Michelangelo makes them look no less
horror-stricken than the sinners hurtling from heaven into the
We sense it at first glance: the regal heritage of this creator is
nobility. His not to woo the heart, nor even less to beguile. His
goal is grandeur.


Ancient art is fired by a sense of fellowship rather than indi-

viduality. We see it most clearly with the Egyptians. But for a
Prelude 3
few exceptions, their art is bound to divine worship. It is ma-
jestic, without room for the autonomy of the individual-let alone
his whims and propensities.
Even in the grandeur of the art of Greece, so utterly does the
creator withdraw behind his work that his personality is all but
blotted out. When we marvel at the beauty of the Parthenon frieze
we are not aware of the personality of Phidias. The work speaks;
the artist is silent.
Not so with the art of the Renaissance nor especially with
Michelangelo. Throughout his work the stamp of his person is
manifest, the pride of his soul, the fierce independence of his
mind. Not only is he more individual than any artist of the
classic age in Greece; he outdoes all his fellows of the Italian
Like the art of Egypt, that of the Middle Ages was one of rit-
ual, created under hieratic rule. Frozen in Byzantine form or sur-
rendering to the mysteries of inward feeling, it never fails to
picture saints, male or female, their thin, slack, shapeless bodies
shrouded in long robes. They seem ashamed to have a body, these
representations. Like their authors, they know that nature is ac-
cursed, the world of the body sinful, and the flesh to be mortified.
From its outset the Renaissance offers a vehement reaction and
counterpoise to this approach-but scarcely ever with such power
as is Michelangelo's. To him man's body is the pinnacle of being-
no sinful clay but the embodiment of beauty, the true and proper
object of ideal art.
True, a pagan element is embodied in this reaction against the
Christian Middle Ages. In the late Renaissance certain popes-
Adrian VI, for example-took umbrage at the unclad youths who
teemed on the very ceiling of the Holy Father's private chapel.
That sedate Dutchman called the decorations more befitting a
bathroom than a place of worship. But the pagan tinge was in-
cidental rather than a deliberate challenge to the Church. It
meant merely to break with tradition and, for the rest, was pure
enchantment with nature. The most telling proof is that the aged
Michelangelo naively went on adding groups-indeed, whole
4 Michelangelo
masses-of nudes to his Last Judgment, at a time when the Renais-
sance was already slipping into the reawakened asceticism and
uncreative respectability of the Counter Reformation; and he
himself-no doubt mainly under the distracting influence of the
devout Vittoria Colonna-was gripped by the rueful piety of the
times. Such offense did he give the cardinals and papal officials
that they had the nakedness of the saved and damned in his fresco
covered over with painted garments.


Confronting_the art and character of Michelangelo, the mod-

ern viewer is commonly .s truck by three basic aspects.
First comes the fact of nudity. With Michelangelo, expression
is not limited to the face but extends to the whole body. Each
figure, in displaying its peculiar character, is marked by internal
tension rather than arrayed against another. Michelangelo's bodies
are ever in motion, and the secret of his management of figures lies
in the technical term contrapposto, i.e., the principle that one part
of the body is twisted in the opposite direction from the other
(e.g., the legs to the left, chest and arms to the right). Outdoing
the Greeks, Michelangelo emphasizes departure from symmetry
in the posing of his bodies, the turn of hip and neck, the division
of body surface by the arms. Never was nakedness so charged with
The second aspect to give the modern viewer pause is Michel-
angelo's penchant for grandeur, in the dual meaning of loftiness
and heroic stature. He is sublime even in his twenties, in the Pieta.
During that same decade of his life his fondness of sheer size
emerges in his David. He shows a preference for superhuman di-
mension. Even little David, a mere stripling in the presence of
Goliath, becomes a giant. On occasion his urge to outdo nature
Prelude 5
transcends all bounds, as when he evinced a desire to carve a
whole mountain at Carrara into a statue.
Yet this tendency toward outward size is of secondary im-
portance, often imposed by circumstance. In painting a ceiling
at almost dizzying height, one can scarcely resort to miniatures.
The figures must be visible, larger and larger. In decorating an
immense wall surface, there is little choice but to project the
figures-especially those near the top-in superhuman dimen-
sions. Not only must they be seen; they must not, by foreshorten-
ing, forfeit interest in comparison with those nearer to the eye.
That is why Christ and the Virgin Mary, in the Last Judgment,
are necessarily huge.
This outward size is immaterial. What matters is the inner
grandeur of Michelangelo's soul. Nature he may have worshiped,
yet he was anything but a realist, anything but a copier of actual-
ity as were the Florentines before him. From his innermost re-
sources he invests all that he represents with the stamp of his
incontestable mastery. His slightest sketch has a life of its own,
a freedom from the subject, adds an element from Michelangelo's
own sweeping spirit to what is pictured. At no time is he merely
natural, merely human, but always at once supernatural, super-
We come to the third noteworthy aspect of Michelangelo's
creative humanity. His art has pathos, surges with energy. All
within it is passion, fettered or unleashed. Even his lyric moods
become dramatic.
At the outset his nature breathes harmony and serenity. His
Pieta is marked not only by clarity and equipoise but by a quiet
gravity that rules out any thought of action. Indeed, the little
satyr beside his Bacchus has an impish aspect.
But even as his creative character develops, violence bursts
forth, sometimes mounting to paroxysm and eccentricity. Yet
solemn dignity remains his scutcheon, preserved even in the tem-
pests of passion and the broodings of prophecy, ever alive in in-
ward movement and outward gesture.


Michelangelo is a universe. A lifework such as his is unfathom-

able without his infinitely complex nature with its powers and
foibles, his incredibly versatile genius. It defies comprehension,
moreover, without a knowledge of the totality of contemporary
Italian culture, creative and literary, without the history and art
of Tuscany, without humanism, Ghirlandajo, Lorenzo de' Medici,
Bertoldo, the Gardens of San Marco.
Yet even the gates of heaven and hell must turn on hinges, and
so must the work of the greatest artist. Two sets of historic cir-
cumstances, in particular, form the fulcrum buttressing the essen-
tial nature of Michelangelo's art. First is his relationship to an-
tiquity-the sculpture of ancient Rome, the world of ideas of
the ancient Greeks. Second is his self-assumed relationship to
the Bible, especially the Old Testament, which pervaded his
imagination, in contrast to Leonardo da Vinci, who could scarcely
distill interest from it.
Two primal forces here affect Michelangelo, Greece and Pal-
estine-Greece through the works unearthed from Italy's soil,
the Dioscuri, the torso of Hercules, Laocoon, and countless graven
stones; Palestine through the story of the creation, the prophets,
the figure of Moses, the legend of the deluge, etc., and not least
the stories about Mary and Jesus and the passion and death of
But the New Testament did not attract him powerfully, for
the tender and delicate elements in the protagonist of the gospels
were foreign to his nature. Even his Madonnas are never mild.
They are grave, proud, melancholy, loving but without tender-
ness, even while playing with the child. Usually they avert their
eyes. What Michelangelo fully encompasses about the Madonna
is her attitude of controlled grief as she sits with the body of her
Prelude 7
son in her lap. His Christ crucified is one who has been wrongly
sentenced, who defies his executioners to the last breath. His
Christ risen is not a supernatural being who has soared aloft from
the tomb in radiance and serenity but a specter of strength who
has burst asunder the stone with a jolt of his shoulders. Twice or
thrice Michelangelo has gone amiss with the figure of Christ-
in the Rondanini Pieta, for example. But the image of Jehovah he
has fixed for all time.

Antiquity is the profoundest influence on Michelangelo. His

Kneeling Angel at Bologna completely follows a Greek Nike in at-
titude. The posture of his David harks back to a carved gemstone
of the Medici which Donatello had already followed on a medal-
lion in the Palazzo Medici. His Matthew is strongly influenced by
the statue of Menelaus which had been given the name "Pasquino"
in Rome.
The naked youth to the left above the figure of Joel in the
Sistine Chapel reproduces a cameo from the Medici collection.
The whole attitude of this seated Apollo with lyre-arms, legs,
back-is faithfully followed. Michelangelo's upright Dying Slave
(Louvre) is strongly influenced by the recumbent figure of the
Dying Niobid (Munich). Michelangelo's Leda and the Swan,
her attitude echoed in the figure of Night on the tomb of Giuli-
ano de' Medici, can be traced to an ancient relief of Leda.

We know two versions of Michelangelo's youth and develop-
ment, by Vasari and Condivi. The latter was directly inspired by
the aging master who sought to guard his absolute autonomy by
gruff demeanor, unwilling to admit he owed anything to any
8 Michelangelo
When young Michelangelo was thirteen his father, who had
fought against an artist's vocation for the boy as long as he could,
took him to Domenico Ghirlandajo, at that time the best teacher
of painting Florence could boast. Ghirlandajo was just painting
the frescoes in the choir of Santa Maria Novella, a task in which
he employed not a few apprentices and assistants to help him. It
was there, most likely, that Michelangelo learned the rudiments
of fresco painting, an art in which he displayed such astonishing
skill when it came to the tasks Julius II put to him.
In his old age Michelangelo bemoaned that he had not been
apprenticed to a sculptor at the outset; hence his position as a
student of Ghirlandajo must have been something more than an
experiment quickly abandoned. We know too that he made his
bow as a painter with a copy of Martin Schongauer's engraving,
The Temptation of St. Anthony. We know, further, that during a
break in the work he pictured the scaffolding in Santa Maria No-
vella with all the students on it; and we read that he once cor-
rected a "drawing error" in Master Ghirlandajo's sketchbook.
Although he later stubbornly insisted that sculpture alone was
his metier, the lively youth did not leave Ghirlandajo's "school of
painting" of his own accord, to become a sculptor. The occasion
was a query from Lorenzo de' Medici who was seeking students
for a "school of sculpture" he desired to establish in his garden
near San Marco. Ghirlandajo chose Michelangelo, who was only
thirteen, and his friend Granacci, who was six years older and had
almost finished his apprenticeship.
Ghirlandajo may have concluded that a young man with such
endowments was not fitted for copying the designs of others. He
may have been a little out of sorts with the lad, though one can
scarcely put any stock in the envy Michelangelo ascribes to him
and, indeed, sensed on every side. In any event, in getting him
admitted to instruction in sculpture his good master at the same
time opened the doors of the house of Medici to him.
Ten years before, Lorenzo il Magnifico had refurnished the
Casino Mediceo in the garden near San Marco, intending it as a
Prelude 9
dower seat for his wife, Madonna Clarice. She, however, pre-
deceased him. Since i488 it had been a villa full of statuary, and
it was here that Michelangelo, by his own testimony, received his
first and crucial impressions of ancient art. Here stood the works
Lorenzo had inherited from his grandfather Cosimo, or had
bought, or had received as presents.
Custodian of this collection of sculpture and head of the
school was Bertoldo di Giovanni. He was seventy years old when
Michelangelo was apprenticed to him and died less than two
years later. Lorenzo closely followed the development of the
school. He complained that the great sculptors of Florence had
passed away, leaving no successors who were their peers.


From the moment Michelangelo first beheld the sculpture

collection of the Medici he never again set foot in a painter's
studio. The ancient statues held him completely enthralled-those
in the garden of San Marco as well as the collection Cosimo had
created in the Palazzo Medici. Strolling as a boy through the
arbors of San Marco, he looked up at the work of the ancients and
felt the urge within him to work in marble. Masons helped him,
showed him how to go about it. The good-natured artisans who
were building walls and executing the ornamentation of the newly
furnished library gave him a chunk of marble and chisels and
hammer. He made his first try, the head of a faun.
There is a building in Florence whose threshold none should
cross without a sense of awe, the fair yet modest palazzo which
the great architect Michelozzo erected for Cosimo. Then the
Palazzo Medici, it is now called Riccardi.
At the foot of this house is a broad encircling stone bench.
Above it rise three well-proportioned stories. The first consists
10 Michelangelo
of large-sized rough-hewn stone with round-arched gateways. The
second is of gray-brown masonry with graceful divided windows,
also round-arched. Above a cornice come the windows of the
uppermost story, like the second. The beautiful overhanging roof
cornice rests on corbels.
This is hallowed ground. It was in this house that modern
civilization awakened to life. Here was the center of the town
which in all the world then was richest in talent, liveliest in spirit.
An inscription over the gate to the courtyard said the house was
dedicated to the rebirth of science. Here the boy Michelangelo,
maintained by the lord of the house with five florins a month, sat
at the table of Lorenzo il Magnifico, and since no etiquette was
observed and whoever came first could seat himself beside Lo-
renzo, Michelangelo quite often managed to preempt this place
beside his lord.
Here the youthful genius with the joyless childhood was ini-
tiated to the fellowship of the greatest men of the age, listening
to scholars and poets of the rank of Marsilio Ficino and Angelo
Poliziano. Here he witnessed the most instructive conversation
then conducted anywhere. Here the elite of Florence's power
and polish were foregathered.

In this house Lorenzo himself showed and explained to the

boy his art treasures, his engraved stones and coins. Small wonder
the boy could not but look down upon what the painters of Flor-
ence had done before his time. There was no way in which the
naive and archaic could appeal to him and his contemporaries. He
sought perfection and found it first in the antique marbles of
the Casino Mediceo and, later, in Rome, in statues like the Pas-
quino and the torso of Hercules, still later in the Laocoon (dug
up in i506). They filled him with profound awe. They unloosed
within him a creative fever that strove for mastery in the repre-
sentation of the human body with its power, its wealth of tension
and conflict, in the representation of life itself, its vigorous, hope-
less struggles, its tragic exaltation.
Prelude 11

At a later time Roman art and Roman literature began to be

held in low esteem, compared to their Greek counterparts. But
to Michelangelo this art of Rome was Greek, blending with the
impressions of Platonic ideas and the Platonic spirit he received
from the humanists. And indeed, it was wholly of the essence of
Decisive for Michelangelo, though he may not have been
aware of it, was the immense sense of spiritual liberation this
experience conferred upon him, together with a lofty faith in the
ideals of Plato: delight in nature, so long damned as heretical,
passionate love of the human body, its cunning structure, the
marvelous play of its muscles, the hidden structure of its bones;
of the whole body as an expression of sorrow and joy, of anger
and torment, of power for action and revulsion from environment,
of self-awareness, of gratification, of triumph no less than of with-
drawal from the world toward inward vision.


Thus equipped with antiquity's weapons of defense and of-

fense, Michelangelo comes face to face with the Old Testament.
His finest works arise at the juncture, the crossroads, where Greece
cuts across Palestine within his frame of reference. Julius II had
marked out the twelve Apostles for the Sistine Chapel. Michel-
angelo replied that as a ceiling decoration these twelve would
be una povera cosa, a poor thing. Then do as you please! said the
Pope. Michelangelo cast out the Christian element.
The intellectual inventory of the time equated pagan sibyls
with Hebrew prophets. Michelangelo's indubitable coldness to-
ward woman as a sexual creature vanished whenever she showed
herself inspired, touched by divine grace, as the sibyls then were
12 Michelangelo
And in the nature of things, the figure of the prophet was dear
and familiar to Michelangelo; for there was something prophetic
within him too-not merely overall in that he was far in advance
of the creative trends of his times so that for several centuries
all imitated his style, exaggerated his mannerisms, and vainly
strove to see with his eyes; but immediately, on a small scale as
well. Repeatedly during his nervous crises he had premonitions of
things to come.
The pathos that dwelt within his soul was prophetic. To that
degree he was akin to some of the major figures of the Old Testa-
ment. Agreed, his mind on that account belonged no less to the
Italian Renaissance at its peak-pagan, Graeco-Roman. He deco-
rated the Sistine Chapel with swarms of nude youths, fair and
vigorous, as though fresh from a palaestra or Greek gymnasion.
To Michelangelo the story of the deluge too is merely a pre-
text for displaying hordes of nude men and women in violent mo-
tion, struggling for survival. In this fashion he forever blends
biblical subject matter with a Greek sense of form.
As for prophets and sibyls and indeed the whole substance of
Genesis, he had from childhood marveled at Ghiberti's gilt bronze
doors in the Baptismal Chapel of Florence; and many a theme
from them stuck in his mind. The reliefs on the north portal, less
widely esteemed, likewise lodged in his memory. Ghiberti's St.
John, lost in deep unworldly brooding, almost gives an inkling of
Michelangelo's own Jeremiah.
In a roundabout way his mind was also conditioned by the
sight of Giovanni Pisano's pulpit in the Church of Sant' Andrea
in Pistoja near Florence. Here pointed arches rise above the col-
umns and, as in the Sistine Chapel, Pisano has crowded the arches
with figures that threaten to burst the confined space assigned to
them. On the capitals of the columns, moreover, grave, rapt fig-
ures stand or crouch, passionately absorbed in some vision, like
so many of Michelangelo's prophets and sibyls. Here too their
loneliness is underlined by near-by figures or rather heads of
Prelude i3
children, to whom they pay no attention. Here too sibyls are al-
ready to be found.
Even in the Sistine Chapel itself the finest painters of the fif-
teenth century had represented carefully and pedantically painted
stories from the Old and New Testaments in a row of frescoes
winding like a belt about the hall. By ecclesiastic doctrine the
main figures were Moses, Christ and St. Peter. And the themes em-
braced mankind's salvation from sin.
Michelangelo, on the other hand, painted prehistory-how the
world was created and how sin came into the world. Here, as in
all ecclesiastic spectacles then performed, Creation, the Fall of
Man and the Story of Noah formed a trilogy.
When Michelangelo was in Bologna a second time, from Febru-
ary to April 1507, to finish the bronze statue of Julius II, his eyes
came to rest every day, as they had ten years before on his first
sojourn, on the figures by Jacopo della Quercia on the main doors
of the Church of San Petronio, above which his statue was to be
mounted. The columns showed soulful depictions from Genesis
and the relief figures in the doors themselves prophets from the
Old Testament.


All this is mentioned only for the sake of completeness, to show

that precursors had paved the way for Michelangelo. In his case
it means very little. Despite certain borrowings from the ancients
and from his immediate predecessors, he was an authentic genius,
matched in the history of art only by Leonardo and Rembrandt.
More important than his creation of prophets and sibyls is
the fact that he created the Creator. No man before Michelangelo
had been able to represent the creative power. He could do it be-
cause it was his own.
14 Michelangelo
The tremendous creative power that boiled within him found
its critical expression, was laid down most strongly, in the four
or five versions of the figure of the Creator which have since
stood as exemplary for all time, perhaps especially because Ra-
phael at once appropriated the type.
In the course of the centuries the Supreme Being had been
often represented in sculpture and painting. The gods of Egypt
sat enthroned, frozen in granite or basalt. Buddha was seated on
crossed legs, aloof, dispassionate, immobile. The Olympian Zeus
of Phidias in quiet sovereignty sceptered a world he had taken
over rather than created.
To Italian art of the fifteenth century the figure of God the
Father was still an archetype handed down from the Gothic age,
a kind of high priest or prime prophet with long, curling hair and
beard. His robe fell down to his feet. His expression was sublime
but without inner life or animation.
Within Michelangelo the creative urge was at white heat. It
burst forth like a torrent, smashing dams and washing all tradi-
tion away. His inventive genius, compounded of imagination and
calculation, created a throng of three hundred and forty-three hu-
man figures on the ten thousand square feet of the Sistine ceiling.
Facing this blank ceiling Michelangelo, who had approached
the task with such reluctance, felt altogether incapable of populat-
ing these surfaces, of inspiring them with life, of opening them up
creatively; and he shaped no God who, the Creation behind him,
now rests on the laurels of complacency, but God as world creator,
world architect, demiurge.
His God is the Creator, God as the stupendous artist who
shapes the universe. In cosmic infinity that knows no bounds, in
the primeval dawn of time a mighty God figure is manifested, his
countenance turned upward, his hands, raised high above his head,
sundering and shaping. He brings order to the primal chaos and
light and darkness are divided.
This first achievement, the point of departure, is followed by
Prelude i5
the soaring Hight of the great and splendid God figure, gliding
through the ether, surrounded by little angels hiding in the folds
of his robe-God irresistibly commanding with outstretched
hands, creating, creating, creating . . . calling forth sun and
moon from the infinity of possibilities, setting them and the stars
their orbits.
The impression of his Hight and of the infinity of space repre-
sented in the picture is further enhanced because the figure,
scarcely beheld, has already flown on and is now seen from be-
hind as it continues its flight through space with a surging, melodic
allegro furioso. The beholder is constrained to follow the con-
tinuing Hight even as he all but loses sight of the figure, soaring
on in a passionately executed curve.
A calmer mood informs the great painting where the Lord,
slowly drifting above the earth, sunders land from water, the
while the rich juices of life seem to drip from his hallowing hands,
filling air, earth and sea, conjuring forth plants to grow and en-
livening the atmosphere with birds, the ocean with fish, the land
with his flora and fauna.
The pinnacle of inspiration is reached when Jehovah, borne
up by angels, male and female-Michelangelo, as nearly always,
gives them no wings-has lowered himself to the edge of earth
and with the index finger of his outstretched arm touches the
tip of Adam's outstretched index finger. With this fleeting touch
Adam, magnificently built in his nudity, is awakened to life.
What concerned Michelangelo was to show man, created in
God~s image, as the younger, mirroring the older of whose essence
he is made-youthful power, as yet unawakened, contrasted with
fully matured power in its awesome grandeur.
Not quite so new and astonishing is the figure of God in the
smaller painting of the creation of Eve-the Magus, etched with
age, his cloak falling about him in many folds, bringing forth
woman from man's side. Yet on the painting of Man's Fall the
figure of Eve is overwhelming in its beauty, as she reaches out for
i6 Michelangelo
the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge-here a fig rather than an
apple. No other woman of Michelangelo's is so straightforward
and at once so utterly beautiful in the richness of maturity.

We have seen how Michelangelo was seized by the challenge

to represent the creative power he knew within himself as inven-
tive genius.
Michelangelo himself named antiquity as his only taskmistress.
Yet we have seen that he did not owe the themes of his main
works-David, Moses, the Sistine frescoes-to Greek mythology.
In the great work he planned but never executed, the tomb of
Pope Julius II, he wanted to employ symbols from the triumphal
arches of the Roman emperors to glorify a militant but Catholic
prince of the church. His great painting of the Last Judgment
superimposes on the medieval image of resurrection as judgment
the reawakening or rebirth of paganism, the representation of the
nude human form in all its twists and turns, in every shade of rise
and fall. For what we call inventive genius consists precisely in
the combining of concepts hitherto separate-and inventiveness
is one of the marks of genius. It is an activity of the mind, not
mechanical but rather in the main unconscious, inspired, inde-
pendent of resolutions and systematic procedures.
Audacity, daring is another sign of genius. Who possessed this
quality in stronger measure than Michelangelo when he, who
heretofore had dealt almost entirely with sculpture, first stretched
out on his scaffold beneath the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? His
whole body ached from the cramped position. Paint dripped into
his eyes. Yet he set out to fill those ten thousand square feet with-
out being able to judge, from his dizzying height, what effect the
painting would have on the beholder below.
It was Kant who defined genius. It is that, he said, which in
the course of events makes history. If he is right none more de-
serves the title than Michelangelo.


Genius did not make Michelangelo happy. He was melancholy

by nature, somber in mood. He kept people at arm's length, to
the best of his ability. Read his confession in one of the late poems:
looking back he finds not a single day he could have called his
own. All of them he spent in the restless whirl of human pas-
sions, to none of which he was a stranger. Everything torments
him, first of all the ephemeral character of all life, the general
lot of all that is mortal; and then his own mind, his worst tyrant.
When he recites the history of his works, it is an unending se-
quence of obstacles and persecutions.
To posterity it would seem he was endowed with everything.
Born a genius of the first water in the town which then was more
receptive to art than any other, he lived in a land where the
mighty put to him one challenge after another, giving the fullest
scope to his talents. He appears at the dawn of antiquity's rebirth,
is drawn to the house of Medici, becomes the favorite of one
Renaissance pope after another. And yeti
And yeti His was a lonely nature. He neither craved fellow-
ship nor was suited to it. In his Conversations with Francisco de
Hollanda he is made to say that all eminent men are eccentrics.
"Lonely as a hangman," Raphael cried on one occasion-he him-
self was never seen but with a great retinue of disciples.
Michelangelo was able to create only in solitude. He needed
neither counsel nor aid. He tolerated no spectators; hence the
scenes with Julius II. And just as he insisted he had never had a
teacher, so he never trained a single disciple. He locked away
his designs from those who sought to learn from him. His plans
miscarried because he tolerated no collaborators about him, only
i8 Michelangelo
Michelangelo was not a man endowed with the social graces.
In his relationships with people, as in his art, he was terribile.
Leo X was referring to the difficulties in dealing with him when
he said: Non si puo praticar con lui, there's no getting along with
He was the fondest of sons, the most worrisome of brothers-a
family man, a true Italian, given to nepotism, like Napoleon after
him. But what rancors he maintained with the eminent men of
his time! His hatred of the Medici is the height of ingratitude. He
loathed Leonardo whose great talents aroused his rivalry. When
Leonardo had the misfortune to fail on his first attempt to cast a
statue, Michelangelo scored him as a bungler-and soon after-
ward fate played him the same trick. He loathed Raphael, child
of grace and fortune, seeing in him only one who had misappro-
priated his creative heritage, who had learned all he knew from
No, he was not a gracious man; but he was touched with di-
vinity. Homely and proud, he was also timid and shy. He was
indifferent to applause, brimful only with his creative power. It
was one of the torments of his life that this manner manifested it-
self only by fits and starts, leaving year-long intervals that were
almost barren, during which he dressed blocks of marble or sought
diversion by writing verse in the manner of Petrarca.

Michelangelo himself maintained that love and beauty were

the dominant powers in his life. He constantly wrote poems on
the all-embracing power of love. In his old age he wrote: "A thou-
sand times love has forced me under its yoke and exhausted me.
Even now that my hair is white, it beckons to me with worthless
Prelude 19
promises." The love he meant was not precisely exalted. He con-
fessed innocently: "A fair countenance is my sole joy." His erotic
fantasy was easily aroused. The fact that he burned all his youth-
ful poems hints that they may have held testimony to a sensual
life of which the old man desired no witness.
Woman as a sexual creature he viewed only as the object of a
violent but fleeting flare-up. He complained bitterly about women
in his poems.
For the rest his nature concealed an aversion to women. He
had been brought up in the church and feared to be drawn into
the abyss of sensuality which murdered the soul, as he put it. In
his poems an unending struggle rages between sacred and pro-
fane love. He speaks slightingly of the love of woman-it was un-
seemly for a virile spirit. The professions of love in his poems and
letters were addressed solely to young men. This too was a source
of temptation which at times almost certainly brought him cen-
sure, as betrayed in his overwrought verses. They vent an intel-
lectual and creative theory of sensuality: the beauty that en-
thralled him was, in a sense, a spark struck from the Creator's in-
Among the young men he courted were some of little account
and character, like Febo di Poggio; and others of distinction, like
Tommaso de' Cavalieri, to whom he remained linked in enduring
friendship. The liaisons with Tommaso de' Cavalieri and Vittoria
Colonna took form at the same time, as he was nearing his six-
tieth year. Both influenced Michelangelo's work in their way. We
owe them two groups of works, one of value, the other almost
With Cavalieri it was Michelangelo who took the initiative.
He harbored boundless admiration for the young man, looked up
to him, subordinated himself completely. In his verses he speaks
of love that tears the entrails from his body. The young Roman
replied in tones of courtesy and respect.
With Vittoria Colonna the situation was reversed. It was the
20 Michelangelo
high-born lady who sought the acquaintance of the papal court
artist. Aristocratic, highly regarded as a poet, no longer young, 0
she craved lofty discourse with the master. Tempting the recluse
from his lair, she made good friends with him. In i540, when
Michelangelo presented Vittoria Colonna with his first drawing
for her, a Christ on the Cross, she was almost fifty and he was
sixty-five. Love there was none, on either side.
Yet her influence on Michelangelo was baleful. She became
the vehicle of the shift in intellectual climate that was sweeping
Italy, the Counter Reformation, a form of religious reaction that
ultimately engulfed even Michelangelo. Her high estate and re-
pute, the loftiness of her mind attracted him. They wrote each
other contrived intellectual verses, without a trace of passion,
but pervaded by a quiet warmth. She was intent upon the salva-
tion of his soul and in the presence of the fine and learned lady
the great artist who had remained a lover of art and beauty de-
spite Savonarola, winced and rued his worldly cult of beauty.
Her personal love of Christ was a phenomenon he had never
encountered before.
Under her influence he wrote his last poems, purely religious
in content. The drawings dedicated to Cavalieri still deal with
themes from Greek mythology, presented with consummate mas-
tery-Tityus devoured by the vulture, the fall of Phaethon, the
Bacchanal of Children-but those for Vittoria are little more than
Sunday school pictures, testimony of belated, naive devoutness. 0 0
But Michelangelo, always, by the way, a good Catholic, never
became a truly Christian artist. His last great work, The Last
Judgment, bears witness to the hatred and contempt for man of a
tormented mind.
We may think less harshly of Vittoria when we bear in mind
0 Her date of birth is not known for certain. It is sometimes given as 1490 and

sometimes as 1492.
Christ on the Cross, now in the British Museum, and a Pietd, now in the Fogg
Art Museum; both drawings are probably originals, but they are not of the highest
quality and therefore some critics regard them as copies. A tltird drawing, Christ
and the Woman of Samaria, is lost and known only from old engravings.
Prelude 21

that it was under the impact of Catholic reaction to Luther and

Calvin that Michelangelo undertook the construction of St. Peter's
-not for pay but purely to redeem his soul. Its crowning dome,
the culmination of his life work, soars about the heart city of an-
tiquity, of the Church, of art, proclaiming his glory urbi et orbi,
to city and world. We sense that all turns out well-even the
meddling of a Vittoria-for him who is beloved of the God of light
and art.


whelmed by his insight. Everything is interwoven-the man, the
place, the country; art, state and society; war and politics; poli-
tics and intellectual life; intellectual life, architecture and paint-
ing. All is indivisible. Yet unless he is to drown in the morass of
facts he must divide. Even the peerless does not stand alone. To
comprehend him requires a grasp of ten thousand premises.
Like every other eminent mind, the genius of Michelangelo
has progenitors. It cannot be understood without a close study
of Florence. Its swift unfolding was possible only because the
Medici clan had gathered about it the entire intellectual life of
Florence 23
Florence, all its monuments of the past. Michelangelo might have
become another, lesser man, or reached his greatness later, had
not a genius like Lorenzo de' Medici sponsored the boy.
Not since the great age of Athens had a town left so epoch-
making an impress on the history of art as did Florence.


Florence was never the capital of Italy, any more than Athens
was ever the capital of ancient Greece. (Not to put too fine a point
on it, for a bare six years, from 1865 to 1870, Florence was the
capital, but that was in modern times, in a century when the city's
repute and vitality could scarcely compare with its past glory.)
Moreover it lacked the conditions for ever becoming the fountain-
head of a great country. It was located neither on the sea nor even
on a navigable river.
The time of its greatness falls neither into the Roman Empire
nor the modern Kingdom of Savoy. It extends roughly from 1250
to i530.
As in all such cases the inherent vitality of the people of Flor-
ence was first manifested in shifting internal struggles. The parties
of the aristocracy hated and exterminated one another and in-
volved the commoners in their feuds. From i215 onward deadly
enmity prevailed between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, the
papal and imperial parties. The bloodiest of civil wars immedi-
ately preceded Florence's time of greatness.
As early as the twelfth century there was a Signoria and a large
council. Later the city was governed by a Podesta, elected for
six months or a full year. Each quarter had its own militia com-
pany headed by a standard-bearer ( Gonfaloniere), with overall
leadership vested in a Captain of the People (Capitano del Pop-
ulo ). To him was entrusted the people's banner, originally show-
24 Michelangelo
ing two fields, white and red. Lilies were later added, first white
on red, then red on white.
In 1258 the leaders of the Ghibelline party, in league with
Manfred, son of Emperor Frederic II, tried to overthrow the con-
stitution. The effort miscarried and the Ghibelline partisans fled
to Siena. When Manfred's troops subsequently carried the day,
the leading Guelphs had to emigrate to Lucca and Bologna; but
a bare six years later Manfred fell at Benevento and in 1267 the
Ghibellines and Germans left the city.


The people put their political and military house in order as

well as they could. The year 1250 saw the establishment of the
guilds which in the course of time were to play so important a
role in the city's artistic embellishment. The original seven guilds
embraced judges and notaries, merchants, wool weavers, money
changers, silk spinners, physicians and apothecaries, and tanners.
Gradually fourteen smaller guilds were added to these seven great
Following the devastating effect of that bloody massacre, the
Sicilian Vespers in 1282, on the influence of the House of Anjou,
the power of the bourgeoisie grew. The guilds were now headed
by Priori, and members of the nobility had to apply for member-
ship if they wanted to qualify for public office. A Gonfaloniere di
Giustizia or Standard-Bearer of Justice was appointed to command
the militia of several thousand which marched behind a banner
showing a red cross on a white ground.
Priori as well as Gonfalonieri were elected, but as the Medici
waxed in power, the elections became mere show. Nominations
were made by a body composed of friends of the city's real over-
lord. One provision making it easier for him to reserve the plums
Florence 25
for his followers was the debarment from all public office of citi-
zens who had been officially reprimanded for some offense or
other. There was still another way of circumventing the law, toll-
ing the great bell to summon the citizens to a council meeting
where they would be challenged to approve changes in the con-
stitution ( balia). Since care was taken to encircle the square with
armed men, the vote was always a foregone conclusion.
It will be seen that even before the time of the great families
republican Florence did not enjoy an ideal state of liberty. Its
belated maunderings over freedom lost were largely self-decep-
tion and affectation.
The name of Medici emerges early. As early as 1291 an Ar-
dingo de' Medici was Prior and soon afterward Gonfaloniere. In
1378 Salvestro de' Medici sought to weaken the forces of reaction
but met with small success. Some aristocrats foiled the effort by
inciting the ignorant and unlettered mob to do their dirty work by
means of a bloody uprising.
The Albizzi family then seized the helm and all power lay in
the hands of the well-born. Yet in the course of time Salvestro de'
Medici did succeed in making his family popular among the peo-
ple. He greatly increased his revenues during the riots by renting
the stalls on the Ponte Vecchio which then as now gave the bridge
its unique character.


Unlike its rival cities Pisa, Lucca and Siena, Florence had no
port. Yet through its commerce and industriousness it far outdid
them. The great guilds formed a financial aristocracy while most
of the old families grew impoverished. At an early date the wool
weavers controlled the foreign markets, as did the money changers
the foreign banks. Then there were the silk spinners and mer-
chants, likewise dealing in imported goods.
26 Michelangelo
In the seventy years before 1330 the Order of the Humiliati,
summoned from Lombardy, instructed the Florentine wool guild
in the manufacture of woolens. The Arno was lined with work-
shops, dyeplants and warehouses, where the monks had drained
and prepared the ground. Homespun soon gave way to the finer
woolens, once imported from the Levant. The wool itself came
from France, Flanders, England, Scotland. As early as 1280 the
Florentines were in touch with several hundred monasteries
abroad from whom they bought their wool.
Associated with the woolen guild was that of the merchants.
Since the domestic cloth output was inadequate, French and Flem-
ish fabric was imported in bulk, dyed, processed and cut in Flor-
ence, and then reexported. In 1338 the number of workshops
( botteghe) of the wool guild was given as two hundred, with an
annual income of 1,200,000 gold florins from seventy to eighty
thousand bolts of cloth. Among the owners of shops such names
are listed as Acciaiuoli, Alberti, Albizzi, Bardi, Buonacorsi, Cap-
poni, Corsini, Peruzzi, etc.-names that crop up again and again
in the course of the centuries and survive in Florence even today.
Next to cloth-making silk-spinning was extremely lucrative.
The arte della seta (Guild of Silk) is often bracketed with the
arte della lana (Guild of Wool). Crimson-colored silk was es-
pecially sought after.
It was the trade of money-changing, however, that was to as-
sume the greatest importance for Florence's prosperity. As early
as the thirteenth century Florentine bankers were at the court of
Henry III in London, and they were by then managing the .fi-
nancial affairs of the papal court. Beyond the borders of Italy the
names Tuscan and Lombard were early synonyms for banker.
These bankers, however, were ready prey to the greed of roy-
alty which was fond of fleecing them. In 1277 King Philip of
France extorted 120,000 gold florins from the Florentine money-
changers, using as a pretext an ordinance against usury which his
council had decreed. A real disaster was the bankruptcy pro-
claimed by Edward III of England by decree of May 6, 1339 The
Florence 27
firms of the Bardi and Peruzzi had granted him huge loans, to
the tune of 1,355,000 gold florins, a "king's ransom" indeed, as
the historian Villani, who lost his whole fortune in the process,
put it. Bonifazio Peruzzi hastened to London to save what he
could, but he died there the following year, apparently of grief.
Failures, impoverishment and famine followed. The city was
ravaged by bands of marauding mercenaries and, in 1347 and
1348, by the Black Death which forms the background for Boc-
caccio's Decameron.

Yet by the beginning of the fifteenth century trade and com-
merce were once again flourishing. The Visconti of Milan had
threatened Florence and invaded Tuscany, but in 1402 Gian
Galeozzo Visconti's death rid Florence of Milan's rivalry. The
other great competitor was Pisa; but in 1406 that city, after heroic
resistance, succumbed to Florentine arms. Its fall removed the
last obstacle to Florentine shipping. Branches were established
in London and Bruges, in Avignon, Nim es, Narbonne, Carcas-
sonne and Marseilles, in Venice, Capua and Palermo. Tuscan
traders settled on Majorca and in Tunis, on Rhodes and Cyprus, in
Asia Minor, the Crimea, Armenia, even deep in North China.
Caution and calculation were the foundation of the city's
power. It is not certain that the Florentines actually invented the
bank draft but in any event, they knew how to use it. The due
date was dependent on distance. For Pisa and Venice it was five
days, for Genoa fifteen, for Naples twenty, for England seventy-
five, for Spain ninety.
In 1422 there were seventy-two bankers' offices on the Mercato
nuovo and it was calculated that two million gold florins were in
28 Michelangelo
Enemies and sometimes even friends were always fond of
describing the people of Florence as an avaricious, ungrateful
and capricious tribe of merchants and craftsmen. Yet the city's
community spirit was in proportion to its wealth. A decree of
1294, while of disputed authenticity, doubtless expresses the spirit
of the times. It enjoins the architect Arnolfo to prepare the model
of a cathedral "of such splendor that the human mind shall be
able to contrive nothing greater or finer, since it befits a people
of noble blood to order their affairs in such manner that their
nobility and lofty sentiments shall be evident in their works."
In 1296 legacies to the cathedral were made obligatory.
In 1334 Giotto was appointed chief architect of the city walls
and other community structures, especially the church of Santa
Maria del Fiore, the cathedral, and four years later funds were
appropriated to "carry to completion in a finer style the work so
auspiciously begun." It was the will of the Signoria that public
works should proceed in appropriate and exemplary fashion, "and
this can be insured only by putting an experienced and renowned
man in charge, and to this end none in the world can excel Messer
Giotto d.i Bondone of Florence, the painter, whom the city of his
birth receives in love and will honor as the great artist he is."
This was done two years before Giotto's death. His memory is
honored by a monument in the Duomo on which he had worked.
The people of Florence themselves, unlike the man in the
street today, were creatively endowed. They knew how to ap-
preciate things with the senses rather than through the intellect.
Like the people of ancient Greece, they had eyes to see. They
thought in visual rather than intellectual terms, aided by highly
developed powers of the imagination.
Their imagination ran to sculpture and painting, and love of
imagery was their religion. They doted on parades, cavalcades,
triumphal arches, tournaments, ecclesiastic spectacles, proces-
sions, festive garb for man and horse, moving tableaux.
The marvelous artists of the quattrocento sprang for the most
part from humble origins-peasants, craftsmen, masons. Paolo
Florence 29
Ucello was the son of a barber, Filippo Lippi's father was a
butcher, the brothers Pollaiuolo came from a family of poultry
dealers. They leave school at the age of seven to nine, barely able
to read and write. They become apprentices in a bottegha. Then,
for six years, they learn to draw, to distinguish colors and mix
pigments, to paint and carve. From discepoli they grow into
ragazzi and ultimately maestri. But they are always regarded as
craftsmen. Arte means craft rather than art.


Most of the streets were paved with large stone tiles which
had superseded the former cobblestones. The new type of paving
supposedly began between 1250 and 1300. Stone from the hills
near San Giorgio was used or from other near-by places like the
quarries at Fiesole and Golfolina. In 1351 the Piazza della Sig-
noria was paved. It was emphasized that paving the square before
the seat of government was a matter of prestige for the whole city.
About this time Giotto's disciple, Taddeo Gaddi, gave Or San
Michele its present aspect. The structure was oratory below, grain
loft above. In 1339 that same master had given the Ponte Vec-
chio its present form.
The guilds were deeply involved in the erection of Or San
Michele. The woolen guild ran the work on Santa Maria del Fiore,
beside the cathedral building commission proper, the Opera del
Duomo. 0 Occasionally it was necessary to divert funds (for ex-
ample, those earmarked for the bell-tower, the campanile) to the
defense of the city or the repair of the walls. But work went on
steadfastly. In 1360 the long dormant work of rearing the walls of
Santa Maria del Fiore was resumed and in 1364 the vaulting was
Opera is the office, operai are the authorities in charge of it.
30 Michelangelo
A generation later the first steps were taken to erect the dome
and sacristy; but the undertaking did not get fully under way for
another twenty-five years. In 1418 a contest was held for models
of the dome. A commission composed of four highly placed citi-
zens ( offeciales cupolae) was instituted, and in April 1420 Filippo
Brunelleschi, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Battista d'Antonio were given
the office of proveditore, supervisors of the edifice.
In Rome Brunelleschi had gained an appreciation for the
plain and harmonious forms of ancient architecture, in contrast
to the less uniform and more arbitrary character of Italian Gothic.
The greatest work of the times, the dome of Santa Maria del
Fiore, represented a compromise between mechanical limitations
and the newly awakened sense of beauty, grandeur and spacious-
The lantern crowning the dome, begun after a model by Bru-
nelleschi, was not completed until 1461, fifteen years after the
death of its creator.


The imposing work was carried out under the rule of the
Albizzi, a family of Florence's nobility. After Maso degli Albizzi's
death, Niccolo da Uzzano, a shrewd and reasonable man (whose
head Donatello has rendered unforgettably for posterity), stepped
up to head the ruling party.
It was then that the house of Medici began to work its way
upward. Giovanni dei Bicci, its founder, was a financier with a
talent for turning to his profit every chance then presenting itself
for the accumulation of a fortune. Most of the great financial
transactions at the Council of Constance ( 1414-1418) passed
through his hands, insofar as they concerned Italy, and this is
said to have earned him huge sums. Then too, he and others
drew great profit from Florence's acquisition of Livorno.
Florence 31

An open-handed man, he commissioned Filippo Brunelleschi

to draw up a plan for the church of San Lorenzo, which was soon
regarded as the family church of the Medici, and in the New
Sacristy of which Michelangelo was later to immortalize the fam-
ily name. In i421 seven other families were still sharing sponsor-
ship of the building with the Medici.
That same year Giovanni became Gonfaloniere. He was unac-
ceptable to the ruling party of the Optimati, but Niccolo da Uz-
zano was able to prevent hostilities on that account. Giovanni op-
posed all unpopular measures-the reduction of the small guilds
proposed by Rinaldo degli Albizzi as well as the incomprehensible
tax demands being put forward.
The pressure from arbitrarily levied taxation, for which the
wars and the loans to pursue them were responsible, had grown
so harsh that one contemporary chronicler advised his son how
to protect himself against the unfair impost. He was to invest his
funds in such a way that they could not be touched-in the form
of dowries, by signing them over to reliable men, putting them
into foreign trade. He even proposed that the money be taken to
Genoa or Venice, sewn up into clothing, or simply hidden in


The Loggia de' Lanzi was begun in i376 and gradually com-
pleted. Every show house then boasted an open hall where friends
and relatives could foregather. It was this custom that the Sig-
noria now adopted. Leone Battista Alberti later reported that the
streets and gates were studded with such loggie where one could
escape the heat and transact business. When customs changed,
the open arches were bricked up and the houses thus enclosed.
The paving of Florence, a feast for the eyes and a boon to the
32 Michelangelo
feet even today, proceeded apace-the squares of Santa Annun-
ziata, Santa Maria Novella and San Marco-work on the last-
named being done by the Serving Brothers, who asked the city
for a subvention, in view of the many visitors who Hocked to the
miraculous image in the church.
Beginning with the second decade of the fifteenth century,
many fine houses were built in Florence. That of Niccolo da U z-
zano, in the Via de' Bardi, probably dating from 1420, is plain in
aspect but magnificent in proportion. Then there is the palazzo
of the Bardi in the Via del Fosso, with columns after ancient mod-
els, then an innovation, plain windows and an old-fashioned
wooden roof projecting far outward. Finally there is the house
of the Albizzi in the street also bearing their name (Bargo d'Al-
bizzi, an extension of the Via del Corso), where one palazzo jos-
tles the next, none coming into its own within the confined space.
From 1373 onward public readings and commentaries of
Dante's Divine Comedy were held "to set our fellow citizens on
the path of virtue and guard them against vice."
In 1421 the Orphanage was built with money provided by the
silk weavers' guild, its inscription saying that this fine house
served to receive those bereft of father and mother, against the
order of nature.

In Lorenzo Ghiberti the school of Giotto is still discernible.

His treatment of relief is pictorial, though he approaches the
ancient style that had emerged a century and a half earlier with
Niccolo Pisano. Only a little younger than Ghiberti was Donatello,
less poetically disposed and seldom displaying as much venera-
tion of beauty, but more realistic and not so much influenced by
ancient sculpture, of which Rome as yet boasted preciously little.
As a boy of seventeen he had been apprenticed to Ghiberti, who
at that time was working on the first door of the Baptistry.
Like Brunelleschi, Ghiberti and Donatello had originally been
goldsmiths, and it was from this craft that they moved on to
sculpture. It was in 1403 that Ghiberti was commissioned to do
Florence 33
the first of his bronze doors. It took twenty years to complete. In
1424 he was given the second door of the Baptistry to do. He com-
pleted that masterpiece twenty-eight years later, three years be-
fore his death. In 1414 and 1420 he executed his two statues of
St. John and St. Stephen for the niches in Or San Michele.


Ghiberti made two statues for the niches of Or San Michele,

and Donatello made two; but neither of these ranks for modern
visitors beside Donatello's third statue for Or San Michele, the
St. George, which he seems to have begun in his thirtieth year, i.e.
in 1416. (The statue is now in the Bargello Museum at Florence.)
More than five hundred years have passed since this statue
was created, yet it is as fresh today as the day it was finished. It
is surely Donatello's most inspired work, quite free of those labored
qualities that sometimes mar his style. In airy grace it even excels
his excellent statues in the niches of the bell-tower of Santa Maria
del Fiore.
Since the commission came from a guild, a popular rather
than an official body, the work breathes the fresh air of the peo-
ple. It is no set piece but an open-air monument of popular art
and civic spirit.
Seen in historical perspective, the statue of St. George is a
monument of the war-tom age that preceded Donatello's child-
hood in Florence. This proud youth with the long Florentine neck
is a true compatriot of the man whose chisel gave him life. All
the surging power and unbounded sell-assertion of the Renais-
sance is embodied in the valiant young warrior. Unarmed but
care-free, with raised and furrowed brow, he attentively awaits
the coming of his dragon. His shield is casually held by a few
fingers of his left hand, while his right arm dangles idly by his
34 Michelangelo
side. His whole attitude is defensive, but his gaze is sullen and
angry. It is the expression of his face alone that is awesome. The
statue as a whole gives a compact, sturdy, enduring effect, but
the facial expression lends wings to this architectural massiveness,
instilling life even into the static elements-shield, breast plate,
brassarts, greaves. He stands there firmly, St. George, the epitome
of noble warrior youth, the ideal of heroism in shining armor.
Clearly he was commissioned by a guild of armorers. Harmoni-
ously he blends the chivalry of the Middle Ages with the serenity
of antiquity and the aristocratic spirit of the Renaissance.

We can scarcely help dwelling on Donatello as an individual
artist, in this broad outline of the Florentine background, without
which Michelangelo cannot be understood. It was Donatello, par
excellence, who provided one of the earliest influences during
Michelangelo's development as a sculptor. His earliest work in
this field, the Madonna of the Stairs in low bas-relief (ca. 1491),
is strongly reminiscent of Donatello in style. Individual as is his
David ( 1501-1504), in expression as in its glowering poise it harks
back to the St. George of Or San Michele.
In a sense Donatello's tomb of Cardinal Rinaldo Brancacci
in the Church of Sant' Angelo a Nilo in Naples is a foretaste of
Michelangelo's style. It is plainer, more guileless than anything
Michelangelo did, yet the whole approach of his mind is, as it
were, rolled up in it. Compare Michelangelo's Moses with Dona-
tello's John the Baptist," carved about a century before and a
masterpiece of its time, and it is seen to be almost a sketch for
the Moses-the seated posture, the attitude of the left arm, the
long beard. What Michelangelo added was the crucial element
Commissioned for a niche on the fai;ade of the Florence Cathedral; now in the
Museo d ell' Opera, Florence.
Florence 35
of passion that enhances, emphasizes, animates, exaggerates every-
thing-horns grow from the hair, the beard billows downward,
the brow is furrowed, sending out lightning flashes-one feels
it, the seated figure will leap up in a moment.
About 1420 Fra Angelico entered his novitiate in the Domini-
can monastery of Fiesole. Florence holds many of his sensitive
paintings-in San Marco, the Accademia, Santa Maria Novella-
but perhaps even more important is his Christ Sitting in Judg-
ment, in the chapel of the Madonna di San Brizio in the Cathedral
of Orvieto ( 1447), the figure from which Michelangelo later bor-
rowed the gesture with which Jesus, in his Last Judgment, spurns
the damned.
Curiously, the decorations in this chapel at Orvieto were com-
pleted by an artist who was as different from Fra Angelico as it
is possible to be, yet who likewise now and then exerted an im-
portant stimulating influence on Michelangelo-Luca Signorelli.
Among other things his frescoes, completed in 1505, show the
dead rising from the grave on the day of judgment. His study of
the human body and its play of muscles without question contains
elements that Michelangelo remembered when he embarked on
his work of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in 1508.
In i422 Gentile da Fabriano and Masaccio were entered in
the Florentine register of painters. About three years later Masac-
cio began his frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del
Carmine and effected a complete revolution in Italian painting.
His tremendous powers of representation influenced the art of
Italy throughout the fifteenth century, including the giants of the
age, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael.


Besides the vices for which Dante censured them, the citizens
of Florence possessed rare civic virtues. Over extended periods
36 Michelangelo
of the Renaissance, Florence was not behind Venice in clear judg-
ment and firmness of will.
Despite forever recurring political unrest and revolution the
people of Florence were frugal and hard-working and registered
steady progress. They lived and ate simply though they valued a
display of splendor during official festivities. Beginning in i288
there were horse races during the carnival season, as in Rome.
Prizes consisted of great pieces of gold or silver brocade. The
most munificent popular festivals were celebrated on May 1 and
tournaments were frequently arranged. Music was held in high
esteem and there was a surfeit of trumpeters and other musicians.
Such were the customs in pre-Medici times. Rome and Naples
were fond of mocking Florentine thrift, but neither Romans nor
Neapolitans traded in Florence, while their own commerce was
almost entirely in Florentine hands. Now that the warlike times
of the Farina ti, Cavalcanti and Donati were past, the citizen rather
than the valiant warrior represented the ideal, at once lord, states-
man and patron of the arts, without on that account neglecting
his concern for his revenues.
Luxury was not pursued in private life, but such was the
growth of the city that public buildings, ecclesiastic or secular,
were given a monumental aspect pleasing to the eye. The munici-
pality was as open-handed as the citizen was frugal. A carefully
observed tradition manifested itself in an architecture of essen-
tially harmonious character, despite a broad range in style. Most
streets remained narrow and there was no overabundance of
squares, but both were well paved, while for decades to come the
Romans still had to wade through dust and mud.
For the most part the houses were stately and solid, and the
city was encircled by a wall with towers and mighty gates, of
which but one survives. Citizens who insisted on having over-
hanging upper stories that darkened the street below were heavily
Beyond the gates lay hospitals and hostels for lepers, and
others affiicted with contagion who were not allowed inside, but
Florence 37
whom the citizens showed generous charity. The number of mon-
asteries outside the walls kept growing, on the hills and at the
bridges spanning the river.
The surrounding countryside provided a handsome setting.
Even in Dante's time there were many villas about Florence-
Boccaccio has described the rustic life led in the city's environ-
ment. Ariosto wrote that were the many villas enclosed by a wall,
it would delimit an area twice the size of Rome. These Florentine
villas were usually built like fortresses and did yeoman service
in the numerous campaigns against neighboring towns and for-
eign mercenaries.


Cosimo, founder of the House of Medici, was born on Sep-

tember 27, 1389, the day of Saints Cosmas and Damian. He was
named after the former of the two, who remained the patron
saints of his house and hence are to be found in Michelangelo's
chapel of the Medici, the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo in Florence.
The family motto ran: Per San Cosma e Damiano/ Ogni male sia
lontano. (By Saints Cosmas' and Damian's might/ May all evil
hence take flight. )
Cosimo was marked for a business career but received a well-
rounded education. Trained in agriculture, he had a penchant
for science and literature. At the age of twenty-four he took a
wife from the house of Bardi, originally of lesser status but then
numbered among the nobility.
When Pope John XXIII was persuaded to attend the Council
of Constance, Cosimo was among his traveling companions, prob-
ably as a financial adviser. The Council deposed the Pope and
held him prisoner in Heidelberg until payment of a high ransom.
Pope Martin V took his place. The Medici offered refuge to John
38 Michelangelo
XXIII in Florence. Giovanni di Bicci, Cosimo's father, was one
of the executors of his last will. His fine monument stands in the
Old Sacristy of San Lorenzo. 0 Significantly enough this friendly
relationship with John XXIII in no way prevented a later rela-
tionship of equal friendliness with the Counter Pope, Martin V.
After the fall of John XXIII Cosimo had left Florence in dis-
guise and spent several years in Germany and France. He was
then recalled, appointed Florentine ambassador to Milan, Lucca
and Bologna, winding up in the same capacity in Rome in i426.
At his father's death Cosimo was forty years old. He had shown
himself to be shrewd, vigorous and cautious and seemed destined
to become leader of the opposition to the party of the Optimati
which was headed by Rinaldo Albizzi, Niccolo da Uzzano and
Palla Strozzi. Giovanni di Bicci had always shunned the role of
a party leader, and Cosimo followed in his father's footsteps.
Prior to the Medici the Albizzi had been the most renowned,
if not the most powerful clan. Since i282 ninety-eight of its mem-
bers had sat in the council of Priori and fourteen had been Gon-
falonieri. Following a brief period of exile, they had been recalled
in i38i. The last of them to rule as a dictator-with great cruelty,
by the way-was Maso ( Tommaso) degli Albizzi, who died in
i417. His son Rinaldo, who had been employed as an ambassador
and in half a hundred other public offices throughout Italy, was
a man of justice but also of arrogance. As long as he had the
clever and moderate Niccolo da Uzzano by his side, the rivalry
between Rinaldo and Cosimo was kept in leash.
The equilibrium in Florence was upset when, following Uz-
zano's death, Rinaldo sought to chastise Lucca, which had sided
with the Visconti in Milan. The Florentines failed in their en-
deavor, and their great architect and military engineer Brunel-
leschi forfeited his reputation when the siege miscarried.
In i433 Cosimo was summoned before the Signoria and there
detained as a prisoner. The substance of the indictment was trea~
0 In the style of Donatello; now usually attributed to the adoptive son of Bru-

nelleschi, Andrea da Buggiano.

Florence 39
son during the war against Lucca. Cosimo's friend, Niccolo da
Tolentino, took the field against Florence but bethought himself
and desisted from intervention. Cosimo saved himself by bribing
the Gonfaloniere. He was exiled to Padua for ten years, his brother
Lorenzo to Venice for five. But in Padua as in Venice Cosimo was
received with such honors as though he were an ambassador
rather than an exile.
His banishment barely lasted a year; for when Rinaldo degli
Albizzi sought to maintain himself by force of arms, the Signoria
tolled the bells in alarm. He and seventy of his adherents were
banished, while Cosimo and his friends were recalled.
To avoid attracting undue notice, Cosimo rode home by a side
road and went to the Palazzo Vecchio rather than to his home,
where a crowd was awaiting him. The city held its peace, and
henceforth the house of Medici was at its helm. On January 1,
1435, Cosimo became Gonfaloniere.


Cosimo's political life was filled with plans for gaining power
over those regions of Tuscany still independent and for attaining
supremacy in the Romagna at the expense of Venice, a policy
that kept alive the rivalry between Florence and Venice.
By 1464 he sensed that death was approaching. Gout, the
family ailment of the Medici, was causing him more and more
suHering. During the entire period of his quiet rule in Florence,
he had remained citizen, merchant and especially gentleman
farmer; for as already indicated he was thoroughly grounded in
agriculture, knew himself how to plant and graft. By means of
his bank, he controlled the money market, not only in Italy but
throughout western Europe. The villa in Careggi was his favorite
residence, as it was to be later on for all the Medici.
40 Michelangelo
Cosimo had much on his conscience. To insure God's mercy
in the hour of death and enter heaven rather than hell, there
was one effective means in that age: the building of churches and
monasteries. Fortunately God, as though paving the way for a
reconciliation, had let Cosimo grow up in the intimate company
of Michelozzo and Brunelleschi. Both of Michelozzo's sons, more-
over, went in and out at the Palazzo Medici. A Michelozzo be-
came Lorenzo's chancelor, another provided him with books from
Greece. Lorenzo was generous toward talented youth.
According to Condivi, Michelangelo's early biographer, Lo-
renzo gave Michelangelo una buona camera in casa, dandogli
tutte quelle comodita ch'egli desiderava ne altrimenti trattandolo,
si in altro, si nella sua mensa che da figliuolo. (A good room in the
palace, and he was supplied with everything he required, and
was treated in other respects as well as at table no otherwise
than if he were his son.)


At the time of Cosimo's death, his son Piero was forty-eight

years old, in fragile health, a man of little stature though not with-
out talent. He lacked his father's political acumen.
In Lucrezia Tomabuoni he had a competent wife, whose fam-
ily, under the name of Tomaquinci, belonged to the oldest no-
bility of Florence. Since these ancient families had been excluded
from public office in i293, Simone Tomaquinci changed his name
to Tomabuoni about the year i400 and went over to the popu-
lar party where he attached himself to the house of Medici. The
family had extensive land holdings.
Lucrezia, a vigorous chatelaine who also wrote poetry and
retold biblical tales, was acquainted with diverse contemporary
writers and, for the rest, concerned herself with the education
Florence 41
and training of her eldest son Lorenzo. Sedately Christian, she
was sufficiently open-minded to cultivate so irreverent a scoffer
as Luigi Pulci, with whom, indeed, she was on such familiar terms
as to exert an influence on his long poem, Morgante Maggiore,
with its blend of religion and burlesque, of austere devotion and
unrestrained ribaldry.
Among her friends was Angelo Poliziano, the impoverished
son of a jurist, who had implored Piero de' Medici's aid against
enemies persecuting him but had soon afterward been murdered.
The son chose the name by which history knows him from the
town of his birth. He proved deeply devoted to the Medici fam-
ily and was, in his whole attitude, a true humanist.
Italy had long yearned for a "Latin Homer," to be able at last
to appreciate the renowned supreme epic of ancient Greece. Po-
liziano was able to complete the translation of only the second
and third books of the Iliad, but these two cantos serve as an
earnest of his skill. In i483 he held a course of lectures on
the philosophy of Aristotle in Florence. A curious introduction to
them bears the title Lamia (the Witch) and represents a bit of
Renaissance humor poking fun at witchcraft. The witches, we
read, had cast a spell over Poliziano with artificial eyes because he,
the lyric poet, would fain pretend to be a philosopher.
Lorenzo was odd in appearance-tall, well-built, pale, black
of hair, rather hoarse of voice. His features were far from beautiful
yet, in their way, more than fair. The shape of his head betokened
strength. His hair, worn long as was the custom of the time, was
thick, his nose flattened, his mouth prognathous and firmly set.
His chin bespoke willpower. Oddly enough in a man whose senses
and intellect were so strongly developed, he had no sense of smell.
His education was first entrusted to Gentile de' Becchi of Ur-
bino, Bishop of Arezzo, a learned and intelligent man who main-
tained relations with the writers of his time, all the way from
Francesco Filelfo and Marsilio Ficino to others less widely known.
The curriculum was strict and included several hours of religious
worship each day. Mother Lucrezia, moreover, took care that
42 Michelangelo
Lorenzo was also inured to good works. She made him grant
dowries to indigent girls, give money to convents in need-in
short, she taught him how to employ this means too for ingratiat-
ing the house of Medici among the people and with the church.
In athletic prowess Lorenzo was soon ahead of the boys of his
age. He was above all a first-rate horseman and connoisseur of horse
flesh. His younger brother Giuliano too-a fair youth of artistic
talent-soon became a skilled athlete. Their elder sister Bianca
married Guglielmo de' Pazzi, member of a family whose harsh
treatment by, and resultant enmity against, the Medici was soon
to bring about a crisis. The families of Pazzi and Medici were
equally renowned-besides being related. Guglielmo, who married
Bianca, was Piero's nephew.
The clash between the Pazzi and the Medici was preceded by
a partisan struggle between the Pitti and the Medici or-as it
was put-between Hill and Plain ( del Poggio e del Piano), since
the houses of Luca Pitti lay on the slopes of San Giorgio and
those of the Medici in the level part of town. The Pitti were then
:flirting with the famed condottiere, Bartolommeo Colleoni of
Bergamo. The ensuing struggle led to the defeat of the Hill Party
whose leaders-with the sole exception of Luca Pitti-had to go
into exile.
Louis XI of France, in evidence of his good will toward the
Medici, in 1465 granted Fiero the privilege of displaying the
French fieur de lys in his arms, and henceforth the Medici scutch-
eon :flaunted three golden lilies on a blue ground in its chief. The
exiles incited new uprisings, and Venice sought to use Colleoni
to install a Florentine government dependent on the Venetians.
The year 1467 saw a bloody but indecisive battle between Col-
leoni and the Count of Urbino, the Florentine general. In 1468
peace was concluded, and until his death in 1475 Colleoni re-
mained captain general of Venice's armed forces. Oddly enough
it was a Florentine sculptor, Andrea del Verocchio, who created
the equestrian statue of Colleoni in Venice, unforgettable monu-
ment to the condottiere, his ancestral city's bitter enemy.
Florence 43
During a tournament in the year i467 Lorenzo first beheld
the love of his youth, Lucrezia Donati, whom he has glorified in
his poems. He pledged her a festival of equal splendor and held
a tournament in her honor in the Piazza di Santa Croce. Its mag-
nificence is attested to by many contemporaries. Lorenzo was
preceded by five mounted pages with fifers and drummers. His
own beautiful and valuable mount was a gift from Ferrante, King
of Naples. In the first tilt he wore half-armor with shoulder-pieces
of white and red silk and over them a sash embroidered with
roses and the legend: Le temps revient-either a dubious tmth
or an indubitable untruth. His velvet beret was surmounted by
three feathers of gold fabric, studded with rubies and diamonds,
with a pearl worth five hundred florins in the center. The diamond
on his shield was worth not less than two thousand florins. Ten
mounted youths and sixty-four armed foot concluded the proces-
Young as Lorenzo was, he carried off the prize, a helmet inlaid
with silver and surmounted with a figure of Mars. But even had
he not been the unquestioned victor, care would have been taken
that he, as the sponsor, won the prize.

Lorenzo was but eighteen years old when his mother went off
to Rome and there affianced him to the young heiress of an emi-
nent family of the Roman nobility, Clarice Orsini, who was to
become the able and generous mistress of his household.
The marriage was celebrated on a summer day of the year
1469. All around the city, the towns had sent their gifts to the
house in the Via Larga-one hundred fifty calves, more than
two thousand brace of capons and pullets. Clarice made her entry
on horseback, clad in a brocaded gown of white and gold. The
44 Michelangelo
table was set for two hundred guests, and forty youths of good
family served as cupbearers. Piero Parenti, who compiled the rec-
ord of Lorenzo's wedding, remarks expressly that an example of
moderation was to be given the citizenry, underlining the position
of the Medici as citizens rather than princes, "hence the number
of courses served did not exceed fifty."
Florence had conceded Lorenzo his father Piero's place, mainly
because the powerful Tommaso Soderini thought he could guide
the youth-in which he was much mistaken.
As a rule Florentine politics consisted in making common
cause with Milan and Naples, since Venice was a rival and it was
impossible to trust the papal court, the popes succeeding each
other too swiftly.
Since the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 and even
more since their conquest of Negroponte in 1470, the popes had
tried to put together an alliance of the Italian states against
them. The princes had come to look upon the Medici as equals.
The alliance failed to come about because of unremitting quar-
rels. Galeazzo Maria Sforza, the unpopular ruler of Milan, con-
ceived a plan to wrest Piombino from the Neapolitans with the
aid of Florence. Lorenzo was weak enough to give his consent. In
gratitude the prodigal Sforza entered Florence with a procession
of almost insane magnificence.
The assault on Piombino was followed by one exactly like it
on Volterra, a blemish on Lorenzo's reign. In the vicinity of Vol-
terra there were then alum pits of rich yield. As happens still
today, two shrewd Florentines tried to obtain leases for the pits
on terms highly unfavorable to Volterra, with the help of certain
local officials who were about to go out of office. Of course the
municipality fought tooth and nail against recognizing the con-
tract as valid, while on the other hand influential Florentines set
their city in motion. They found this all the easier since Lorenzo
was a major participant in the planned exploitation of Volterra
The little town was able to muster but 1,000 foot against 5,000
Florence 45
foot and i,ooo horse of the Florentines. Under fire for a month,
Volterra surrendered on the promise that life, honor and property
of its inhabitants be spared.
In keeping with the customs of the time, the pledge was
broken to the accompaniment of the most horrible pillage and
atrocities. The campaign, moreover, was so costly that the Floren-
tines saw themselves compelled to borrow from the funds appro-
priated for dowries. The woolen guild proceeded to strip the pits
so ruthlessly that they were depleted within one hundred years.


About this same time Florence frequently tangled with the

pope, especially over the town of Imola in the Romagna, which
the pope had given away but which Lorenzo wished to possess.
In this dispute the pope won over to his side the greatest field
captain of the time, Federigo da Montefeltro, who had hitherto
been in the service of Florence.
All politics around i500 was dominated by the condottiere
system, by double-dealing and hard bargaining. Alliances were
concluded with equal frequency against former friends as against
present enemies. Every possible damage was inflicted upon an ally
even before the alliance was broken. Powers fancying themselves
secure were attacked by surprise, even before the embassy of the
attacking power was withdrawn, private property seized even
before war was declared. Peculiar to the age was the custom of
buying off the enemy's ablest condottiere with a higher offer, even
when he had already received his pay. And in consequence the
captains seldom scrupled to break their pledges, old or new.
The Pazzi were one of the few families of Florence that could
compare with the Medici. As already mentioned, they looked
back on a long and glorious past. When King Rene of Anjou so-
46 Michelangelo
journed in Florence for some time in i442, Andrea de' Pazzi had
been deputed his companion, and the little king, in token of his
favor, had knighted him. Of Andrea's sons Piero was one of the
finest noblemen of his time. He was the Florentine ambassador to
Louis XI, who knighted him, and he entered Florence with a
magnificence unequaled by any Florentine before him. Huge
crowds foregathered to watch the procession. The entire retinue
wore pearls on hats and sleeves.
Lorenzo de' Medici, by means of a palpably rigged court de-
cision, now virtually despoiled Giovanni de' Pazzi, about his own
age and the wealthy heir of his wife (who was a Borromeo), in
favor of a relative of the father of his wife. The act was as foolish
as it was unfair. It incensed Pope Sixtus IV, who had just ap-
pointed cardinal the seventeen-year-old son of his favorite, Giro-
lamo Riario. Girolamo, a brutal man who had been given proud
Catarina Sforza in marriage for political reasons, loathed Lorenzo
with a savage hatred, for he knew that his tiny principality of
Imola was ever menaced by Lorenzo's schemes of conquest.
At first an effort was made to entice Lorenzo to come to Rome.
He did not object but kept putting off the journey. It was then
decided to strike at him right in Florence. For the Pazzi and their
kin, the Salviati, were thought to be so powerful that half the
city would at once come over to their side.


Jacopo de' Pazzi, Lorenzo's kin, resided permanently at the

Vatican, as one of the bankers of Pope Sixtus IV, who had given
his assent to the conspiracy against the Medici. Lorenzo and
Giuliano were to be put out of the way, yet the pope-by virtue
of his position but surely not in earnest-demanded that this be
done without bloodshed, quite as though such a thing were pos-
Florence 47
The conspirators won the condottiere Giovanni Battista da
Montesecco to their side-he was to strike the decisive blow
against Lorenzo. The murder of the two brothers was to be ef-
fected in Santa Maria del Fiore during a church festival on April
26, 1478, at the moment when Girolamo Riario's young nephew,
Raffaele Sansoni, during the celebration of the mass lifted up the
chalice with the blood of Christ. But once this plan had taken rm
shape, Montesecco withdrew. He was quite willing to commit
murder, but not to shed blood in the House of the Lord.
His place was taken by the less timid and more ruthless Ber-
nardo di Bandino Baroncelli. He struck down Giuliano whom he
had personally escorted from the Palazzo Medici, because Giuli-
ano, on account of an indisposition, had stayed away from the
service on this day. The priests wounded Lorenzo, but he had
enough presence of mind to leap over the choir barrier and seek
refuge in the sacristy, the door of which Angelo Poliziano swiftly
slammed shut. The entire Pazzi party were assembled under
arms; but it availed them nothing. The element of surprise was
Archbishop Salviati, a leader of the conspiracy, had ridden to
the Signoria instead of attending church. There he had demanded
to see the Gonfaloniere, who happened to be at table with the
Priori and smelled a rat when he beheld the large retinue with
the archbishop. He at once had the gates closed and thus caught
a whole group of the conspirators.
The plan called for Jacopo de' Pazzi to occupy the Piazza
della Signoria with his armed men, once the archbishop had seized
the reigns in Florence; but he found the marketplace filled with
Medici adherents who greeted him with the call: palle! palle!
(the balls in the Medici arms).
There was short shrift. Eighty of the conspirators were sen-
tenced to death, the leaders were hurled out the windows of the
Palazzo Vecchio, ropes about their necks, and hanged against
the wall. The archbishop dangled in full ecclesiastic panoply be-
side Francesco Pazzi, who had stabbed the fallen Giuliano with
48 Michelangelo
such insensate fury that he had injured his own thigh. In his
death throes the archbishop tore open the front of Francesco
Pazzi's clothes.
Lorenzo had the scene immortalized by the usually so gentle
painter Sandro Botticelli on the fa~ade of the Palazzo del Po-
desta, 0 with the portraits of the hanged, still at the end of the
rope. In i494, after the flight of Piero de' Medici, these frescoes
were destroyed.
The severed heads of the Pazzi were carried through Florence
on long poles. One of these poles was planted in front of Lo-
renzo's palazzo. The property of the conspirators was seized.
Their names could no longer be mentioned.
And yet this name has not been forgotten. Even today the
Palazzo Pazzi, built by Brunelleschi, still stands, its architecture,
half medieval, half classical, as fine as that of the Palazzo Medici.
And to this day the name of Pazzi is borne with honor by Brunel-
leschi's fine, graceful Cappella dei Pazzi in the convent garden
of Santa Croce. Bearing the name of a clan that was wiped out,
this chapel is marked by a festive and joyful air.


Giuliano's murderer Baroncelli made his escape from the

church and fled straightway to Constantinople. But Lorenzo
never lost sight of him and demanded his extradition. He was
sent back to Florence and a year later, in December i479, he
was flung from a window of the Palazzo Bargello, a rope about
his neck.
Leonardo da Vinci must have been among the spectators at
the time, intent upon recording the spectacle with the calm eyes
0 Also called 'il Bargello,' the headquarters of the police. (The National Museum

of Florence, famous for its collections of Renaissance sculpture, is now housed

in this Gothic palace. )
Florence 49
of the scientific observer. We still have his masterly, eloquent
drawing of the hanged man. 0
Sixtus pronounced anathema against Lorenzo for the murder
of the archbishop and the other clerics, indeed, placed all of
Florence under interdict. King Ferrante, who had always feigned
friendship, joined the pope and even incited him. The papal troops
were placed under the command of the renowned general already
mentioned, Federigo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino.
Milan and Venice supported Florence but proved to be in-
adequate allies. Louis XI on the other hand remained loyal to
Lorenzo and appointed as his ambassador none less than the famed
historian Philippe de Comines, who had once served Charles of
Burgundy but had gone over to the king. But Louis mustered no
army and Sixtus, a true Rovere, was not one to be intimidated.
Nor did it avail Louis to halt all remittances to Rome and
attempt to persuade the pope that the Turks were the real enemy.
Yet when even the ambassador of Emperor Frederic appeared
in Rome, Sixtus felt constrained to negotiate, no longer demanded
Lorenzo's banishment, and was content to drag out the affair,
Naples having been designated the place where peace negotia-
tions were to take place.
Rome and Naples, however, had marshaled heavy troop con-
centrations, and in September 1479 Florentine headquarters was
disrupted by the defeat at Poggibonsi. Lorenzo realized that
Florence might purchase peace if he gave himself up, but he
remained in the city for some time and put his affairs in order.
Then he undertook the most courageous and intelligent step
of his life. Having first sent Filippo Strozzi to Naples as his herald,
he went to the court of King Ferrante himself. The king had
gone on record that he was only after Lorenzo's life, not that
of the city. Now the king had him in his power and if he wished
to negotiate he could do so with Lorenzo directly. Fifteen years
earlier one of the great condottieri of the time, Jacopo Piccinino,
Hanging Figure of Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli, pen-and-ink drawing,
Bayonne, Musee Bonnat.
50 Michelangelo
had come to Ferrante in similar fashion, trusting in the king's
honor and humanity; but Piccinino had to pay for it with his life.
Lorenzo's charm, the superior intelligence that emanated
from his person, can be gauged from this occasion. Ferrante did
not resist his blandishments. He had enough political experience
of his own to tell him that an alliance with this young man would
enhance his influence on the Italian scene. Yet he had to take
many factors into consideration-the distrustful Venetians who
necessarily concluded he was abandoning them, the pope who
was greatly displeased with Lorenzo's brazen visit to Naples;
and finally the many malcontents in Florence who were only wait-
ing for a chance to topple the house of Medici. Lorenzo, however,
had won over King Ferrante's most important adviser, Diomede
Caraffa, Count of Maddaloni. The count shared Lorenzo's love
of art, poetry and antiquity resurrected.
Lorenzo sponsored festivals in Naples, gave dowries to young
women, manumitted and staked one hundred galley slaves. When
he landed in Livorno three months later, the peace was signed,
though on excessively harsh terms. It was buttressed when the
fleet of Mohammed II landed seven thousand men in Apulia who
initiated a dreadful massacre. Sixtus IV saw himself obliged to
appeal to all the Christian princes, and on petition of Florence's
most notable men he lifted the interdict on the city in December


Lorenzo de' Medici was heir to Cosimo's role as patron and

protector of art and literature. Born on New Year's Day of 1449,
he was just a year old when Johann Gutenberg succeeded in mak-
ing the first practical movable type; he was fourteen when the
first Bible went to press. He was a somewhat younger contem-
porary of Columbus, his death falling into the year when Colum-
Florence 51
bus first set sail from Palos for the "Indies," only to find the New
Florence, a city of quite moderate size, had by then begun to
shape a new world of its own, in the arts and sciences. Even be-
fore the invention of printing Cosimo, aided by his learned friend
Poggio Bracciolini, had begun to establish libraries. During his
exile he endowed the library of San Giorgio in Venice, later, in
Florence, the library of San Giorgio, which was completed in
i44i. Through his bank he made available funds for the library
at Fiesole and through Vespasiano da Bisticci he employed forty-
five copyists who completed two hundred volumes in less than
two years. Most of them are now in the Biblioteca Laurenziana
in Florence.
Vespasiano was the most eminent book dealer of his time.
When Federigo da Montefeltro organized the library at Urbino,
he kept thirty to forty copyists busy in various towns for fourteen
years. Printing from type, which began at this time, was held in
far lower esteem, since it had to stand comparison with the tri-
umphs of calligraphy on fine vellum. In his Lives of Illustrious Men
of the Fifteenth Century 0 Vespasiano mentions printing only once,
condescendingly. He lauds the library of the Duke of Urbino on
account of the immaculate beauty of its volumes, all of which
were graced with delicate miniatures. There was not a single
printed book among them. The Duke would have been ashamed
to include one.


Lorenzo was not only a patron of the arts but a poet himself.
He began to write verse when he was only seventeen, well-con-
0There is a good English translation of this book, by William George and Emily
Waters, published under the title The Vespasiano Memoirs, London, igz6.
52 Michelangelo
structed sonnets dedicated to his lady love, Lucrezia Donati,
lines without marked originality but full of warmth and freshness.
They represent love as a longing for beauty. Lorenzo also wrote
longer works: Idyls in eight-line stanzas like the typically Tuscan
Nencio da Barbarino, dealing with the love of a village girl for a
peasant lad and composed almost entirely of rispetti, epigram-like
folk songs; or the mythological poem Ambra, set in Poggio a Ca-
jano, the fine Medici villa on whose decoration Lorenzo lavished
large sums. A little island there is named Ambra, and Ambra is
the nymph beloved of the shepherd Lauro (Lorenzo).
Another idyl, on falconry, written before 1478, pictures the
merry company gathered about Lorenzo. In a poem called The
Revel he stands in the gates of the city and limns his intimates
as he watches them go home from a merrymaking, touched with
drink, humorously characterizing each member of the thirsty
company. In Lorenzo's hymns, expressions of religious sentiment,
the world is not the traditional vale of woe but a place of beauty
set in order by divinity.
His essential character has its way equally when he tries his
hand in the style of popular comic poetry, as in Benni (The
Drunkards), or in exuberant burlesque, as in his dancing songs
( canzoni a hallo) and carnival chants ( canti carnascialeschi)
which revolve about sensual love and mock those who from sheer
envy look askance at merrymaking. We look, perhaps for the first
time in history,"' upon a republic ruled by a poet, ever surrounded
by song and dancing.
Lorenzo had not a few love affairs of his own. Machiavelli
levels but one charge against him-his numerous liaisons. Espe-
cially noted was Lorenzo's protracted infatuation with Bartolom-
mea de' Nasi, wife of Donato Benci-by contemporary standards
she was thought to be neither particularly young nor beautiful.
0 Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen wrote, before Dante's time, the earliest

Italian love poetry; but Sicily was not a republic. And the poetry of King Akhna-
ton and King Solomon was not merry.
Florence 53
Even in the deep of winter he rode over to her villa at night, to
return only at daybreak.
Pico della Mirandola, in one of his letters, lavishes praise on
Lorenzo as a poet. Dante, he says, conceived a powerful theme
but lacked full mastery of language. Petrarca, conversely, knew
every trick of language but knew no worthy thought to express
in it. But Lorenzo was both master of language and a thinker
who had something to say.
The overestimate is colossal-to put Lorenzo above Dante
and Petrarca is to reverse the order of merit completely; but Lo-
renzo did have talent and despite his many frivolous verses in the
time-honored Florentine tradition he was of serious mind. From
childhood he and his brother Giuliano had been inured to listen
to discourses with the abbot Mariotto Allegri, dominated by the
great Leone Battista Alberti.
In his Camaldolensian Discourses Cristofaro Landino pictures
the Medici circle against a setting in the Apennines at a spring
beneath a mighty beech tree; and here too the great man of the
age, Leone Battista Alberti, led the discussion and praised the
contemplative life.
Leone Battista Alberti ( 1404-1472) began as a humanist,
studied Latin at Padua, Greek at Bologna, wrote a Latin comedy
in his youth as well as dialogues, satires, epistles. From 1432 on-
ward he was settled at the papal court in Rome, where his tower-
ing talents made an immense impression on the wits and scholars
there assembled.
He was self-educated, had trained and subjugated his body
as a lion tamer vanquishes a defiant beast. Delicate and sickly by
birth, prone to catch cold, he was able to walk bare-headed in
the snow as in the blazing sun with impunity, could leap over a
standing man, toss a coin to the top of Brunelleschi's dome, climb
mountains, break horses, drill case-hardened armor with his ar-
row. He was skilled in all the weapons, played all the instruments
of his time.
54 Michelangelo
He was steeled in every manner of ordeal, illness, exile, pov-
erty. He had traveled in France and Germany. He had loved and
suffered. His songs, ballads and sonnets deal with woman. He
loved plants and beasts, mathematics, ciphers, ships, the arts of
perspective, sculpture, architecture-and on all this he wrote.
He painted, molded figures in wax, drew up plans for the
churches of San Francesco in Rimini, San Sebastiano in Mantua,
Sant' Andrea in the same city, for the Palazzo Rucellai in Florence.
He invented a surveying instrument and a method for raising an
ancient ship from the bottom of Lake Nemi. In Rome he con-
structed a panorama. His genius spanned the universe. 0
In a sense he was a first model of Leonardo da Vinci.


Most eminent of the circle, after the death of the universal

genius Alberti, was the writer Angelo Poliziano ( 1454-1494), al-
ready mentioned, Lorenzo's friend and contemporary. True, as
tutor of his friend's children, he often clashed with Madonna
Clarice, mistress of the house, who would not tolerate his pref-
erence for pagan over Christian writers. Lorenzo was compelled
to put an end to the instruction.
Poliziano, better known to us as Politian, was primarily a phi-
lologist, translated and published the writers of antiquity. Among
the Greeks he preferred Aristotle and the Stoics, among the Ro-
mans the writers of the so-called Age of Silver-Quinctilius,
Statius, Persius-displaying a certain independence of mind, if
not flawless taste, for Cicero was then worshiped with a passion
that tolerated no dissent. True, even before him the self-willed
and provocative Valla had put Quinctilian above Cicero. Poli-
See also L. B. Alberti on Painting, translated by John R. Spencer, New Haven,
Florence 55
ziano's hatred of slavishly aping the style of the ancients must be
reckoned strongly in his favor.
He had no qualms about seeking high ecclesiastic office, though
he loathed the clergy and went to church only to catch them in
errors in Latin. He nourished a vast vanity, as shown in a letter
to the King of Portugal, whom he promised to make immortal by
translating Portuguese travel accounts. To King Matthias Corvinus
of Hungary he boasted that none had done more to spread a
knowledge of Greek during the past thousand years than himself.
In his polemics with contemporaries, like the Florentine states-
man Bartolommeo Scala, he employed every last term of invec-
tive he could muster-but then, such was the customary tenor
among humanists, in Italy as in Germany.
In his verses he made no secret that handsome lads pleased
him as much as pretty girls. When he sang the praises of his
patrons he minced no words about looking for .reward in coin of
the realm. Pietro Aretino was later reproached with this state of
dependence which was quite general in an age when poetry
earned no income and poets had to subsist on dedications and
flattery. With Lorenzo, whose foulest deeds-like the assault on
Volterra-Poliziano praised as loudly as his proudest accomplish-
ments, no pleas to open the purse strings were necessary.
It was mentioned above that Luigi Pulci ( i432-1484) was un-
der the protection of Lorenzo's mother. At heart a freethinker, he
ridiculed not only the monks mendicant, as then did many of the
faithful, but the miracles of Scripture and even dogmatic faith in
the soul's immortality. What quaint folly, said he, to quarrel over
the soul, to pry into how it gets into us and out again, how it dwells
within. Plato and Aristotle are invoked to convince us with empty
phrases of bliss to come, of the soul's harmony with the music of
the heavenly host. They should be told the soul is stuffed in the
body like a raisin in the cake and perishes with it.
His Morgante Maggiore, already mentioned, was a parody on
chivalry that tickled the Florentine merchants and humanists.
The passage describing Morgante's conversion includes this ava-
56 Michelangelo
lanche of words (translated from Italian rhymes into English
"I believe no more in black than I do in blue; I do believe in
capons, in what is baked and braised, often too in butter and beer;
and when thereof I have nought, in wine, dry rather than sweet-
good wine best of all; indeed, I cherish the conviction that whoso-
ever believeth in good wine shall find salvation therein. I believe
in tarts and cakes, in mother and son; but the Lord's Prayer proper
lieth in fried liver, and the servings thereof may well be one, two,
or three at once."
Good taste was not Pulci's forte; yet the full circle of the house
of Medici took the liveliest interest in this derisive epic.
The sharpest contrast to Pulci was offered by the humanist
Marsilio Ficino ( 1433-1499). Opposed to the philosophy of Aris-
totle, he cultivated Plato, together with some of the works of the
Neoplatonists Plotinus, Iamblichus and Proclus. He wrote a book
on Platonic theology and on the immortality of the soul-en-
deavored, in other words, to blend Platonism with Christianity,
which he served as rector of two churches in Florence and canon
of Santa Maria del Fiore. So convinced was he of the compati-
bility of Plato and Bible that he called Plato "a Moses writing in
the Attic tongue."


The elder members of the circle were soon outshone by a

youth of such gifts that in French his name is still synonymous
with dazzling learnedness and an unfailing memory. Conte Gio-
vanni Pico della Mirandola is said to have spoken twenty-two
languages at the age of eighteen. It is told of him that when he
had read a page three times he could recite it from memory for-
ward or backward.
Florence 57
Poliziano writes that Pico della Mirandola was eloquent and
talented, of almost superhuman stature. His nephew Giovanni
Francesco describes him as a man of great charm, tall and supple
of figure, fair-haired, with deep blue eyes and dazzling white teeth.
His life was short. Born in i463, he died in i494.
His letters, which he himself arrayed in twelve volumes, were
addressed to such men as Giuliano de' Medici, Federigo da Monte-
feltro, Matthias Corvinus, Pietro Bembo. He was personally ac-
quainted with Leone Battista Alberti as well as with Johann
Reuchlin, who visited Italy in i490.
The young Count of Mirandola attended the University of
Bologna at the age of fourteen to immerse himself in canonical
law, then studied theology and philosophy at several other uni-
versities, giving evidence of his ability as a debater. Even as a
boy he wore the clerical garb of a prothonotary, a papal privy
scribe. He had just turned twenty when he came to Florence in
i484. On account of his noble birth and kinship with the Duke
of Ferrara, Ercole d'Este, he became an intimate of the Medici at
once. Lorenzo loved and esteemed him, was ever active on his
behalf, praised him in one of his letters.
His intellectual stature was founded on his simultaneous ab-
sorption with Greek and Hebrew, his attempt to commingle these
two cultures completely. Unlike Marsilio Ficino he was not con-
tent with a knowledge of Greek. Defying the prejudices of his
time, which held that the Jews were unfit to teach Hebrew and did
not merit the attention of scholars, he went beyond the study of
Bible and Talmud, immersing himself in the mystic teachings of
the Jews, the Cabbala, to which he was introduced by the philos-
opher Elia del Medigo. Here he hoped to learn about the work-
ings of supernatural forces ; but orthodox as he was, he found that
his researches served only to confirm his conviction of the truth of
Christian dogma.
As though by way of compensation, he passionately took up
the struggle against the superstition of his time, astrology. None
before him had openly and conclusively derided this form of
58 Michelangelo
divination, for the earlier attackers secretly believed in the folly
they assailed. Pico declared astrology to be a fountainhead of irre-
ligion and immorality, indeed, took the trouble to prove the
falsity of astrologic forecasts on wind and weather.
Like all the humanists of Florence Pico worshiped Plato. By
Alexandrian tradition November 7 was the day of both Plato's
birth and death. It was celebrated with festivities, described by
Marsilio Ficino, in which Lorenzo on occasion took part.
Pico the Platonist allowed himself to become involved in a silly
and ill-starred romance with the pretty wife of a tax farmer at
Arezzo, a distant relative of the Medici. Pico met this lady when
he happened to pass through Arezzo on his way to Rome. They
soon arranged that he was to abduct her on horseback during
what was ostensibly a chance encounter; but pursuers caught up
with him and mauled him badly. The young and rich wife had no
trouble convincing her husband of her innocence, and there were
no serious consequences.
In i485 Pico continued his studies in Paris. Following the cus-
tom of the time, he issued a challenge to a public debate in Rome
the following year. He was prepared to deal with goo theses in
philosophy, theology, magic and natural science.
Some of the theses were branded heretical. Pico, for example,
said that Christ had not actually descended to Hell-it had merely
seemed so. He maintained that the words "This is my body" were
to be understood figuratively rather than literally. He stressed
that a mortal sin, being necessarily limited in time, must not and
could not be punished with everlasting torments.
Lorenzo was Pico's zealous advocate with the pope, and the
penalty was limited to a prohibition of the goo theses. Pico spent
his last days quietly in Florence. As already mentioned, he came
to an untimely death at the age of only thirty-one.
Girolamo Savonarola, the monk and preacher of penitence
soon to become famous, began to malign Pico's memory. Having
known him, Savonarola could not forgive him for never having
taken holy orders and expressed doubt that Pico could have gone
Florence 59
to Heaven. The monk grew convinced that the famous humanist
must be in Purgatory.


Among other noted families close to Lorenzo was that of

Amerigo Vespucci. Amerigo himself had entered an Italian bank-
ing house in Seville at the age of forty. Since this bank provided
the equipment for the second and third journeys of Columbus,
Amerigo came to know the great explorer and resolved to find his
own way to the New World. In i499 he took part in the expedition
to Surinam of Admiral Alonzo de Hojeda, and upon his return he
seems to have traveled from Portugal to the West Indies and
Brazil and thereupon to have explored the Brazilian coast in
Portuguese ships between i501 and i504. At the behest of Colum-
bus he reentered the service of Spain in i505 and was appointed
Quartermaster General for the journeys to the Indies.
It was not a Florentine but rather a German printer, Martin
Waldseemtiller, who, in an account of Amerigo's travels, 0 pro-
posed that the New World be named after him-a proposal that
was generally accepted. The people of Florence rejoiced in Ame-
rigo's fame. His ancestral home was later on made a hospital, with
an inscription paying him obeisance as the discoverer of America:
ob repertam Americam sui et patriae nominis illustratori ampli-
ficatori orbis terrarum.


The painter whom Cosimo de' Medici and his sons loved best
of all was Fra Filippo Lippi ( i406-1469), the former Carmelite
Printed in 1507 at Saint-Die in the Vosges.
60 Michelangelo
monk and happy-go-lucky soul who painted pious pictures and
abducted a nun-she could never be persuaded to leave him.
Highest in Lorenzo's eyes stood the courteous Domenico Ghir-
landa jo, whose paintings in the choir of Santa Maria Novella give
us the best picture of the private and public life of the citizenry
of Florence.
Lorenzo imbued his relationships with artists and scholars
with the true spirit of cultivated humanity. He never exacted a
trace of servility. The atmosphere was one of freedom. Letters to
him breathe confidence and familiarity. He did not even take
practical jokes amiss. He listened patiently as the aged Bertoldo 0
during the war in i479, when funds for the repair of sculpture
were indeed scarce, maintained reproachfully that it were better
in these days to be a cook than an artist.
Sycophantic as many of the poetic paeans to Lorenzo sound,
numerous as are the parallels drawn between his name and lauro
(laurel), it cannot be made too clear that social intercourse with
him, by letter or face to face, was governed by not the slightest
sense of formality. Occasionally his title of honor, Magnifico, was
heard-it swiftly grew to be part of Lorenzo's name. Usually he
was addressed simply as Lorenzo.
The house in the Via Larga was at once museum and meeting-
place of artists and writers. It held an overabundance of ancient
coins, cameos, gems, mosaics and enamel paintings, collections of
carved stones and precious vessels.
A Florentine Court was then still nothing like the Court of
Milan or of Naples-it was called a family (famiglia). The Medici
were a family-a family of joy, Ariosto called them.
There was no rank at this court, nor any courtly manner. No
guards were posted before the palazzo. Lorenzo's mother, Lu-
crezia Tornabuoni, dwelt in the house, busy with her doves and
linens. Madonna Clarice was beloved of her children. When the
0 Bertoldo di Giovanni (ca. 1420-1491 ), a pupil of Donatello and the teacher of

Michelangelo; and a very good sculptor himself. All works of his known for certain in bronze. Toward the end of his life he was appointed to take charge of
Lorenzo de' Medici's collection of antiques (as narrated by Vasari).
Florence 61
children had been in the country with Poliziano and the mistress
of the house rode out to meet them with the chaplain Matteo
Franco, he described the encounter in these words:
"Close by the Certosa we met the paradise of angels, that is to
say, Messer Giovanni (later to be Leo X), Giuliano with Giulio on
his saddle, and their entourage. No sooner did they behold their
mother when they dismounted, the one without help, while the
other needed assistance, and ran to their mother, and Madonna
Clarice embraced them with such warmth and with so many kisses
that I could not describe it in a hundred letters."
Florence had lost the austere and brusque manner that still
marked it in the time of Cosimo; it was beautified and reju-
So great had Lorenzo's reputation grown meanwhile that the
Sultan of Egypt, Abu Nasr Kaitbei, sent envoys to him to start
trade negotiations. They arrived in Florence in November i487,
bringing rare gifts to Hakim (i.e. the wise judge) Lorenzo-an
Arab steed, rams and ewes of unknown breed, splendidly woven
silks, colorful vases of porcelain not seen in Florence heretofore.
The Signoria, at the same time, was presented with a giraffe and
a tame lion.
Increasing illness interfered with Lorenzo's activities during
his last years. Yet music remained his daily bread, and all his
poems called for music. He did not sing himself, not being gifted
with a fine voice.
What deeply concerned him was his second son Giovanni's
advancement to cardinal's rank. He had three sons: Piero, whom
he was wont to call dull; Giovanni, whom he regarded as clever;
and Giuliano, who was good.
Lorenzo had Giovanni take vows when the boy was scarcely
seven and asked the King of France, Louis XI, to vest the lad with
an ecclesiastic living, in keeping with the rank of the Medici. A
little later the king gave the eight-year-old the Abbey at Font
Douce, while at the same time Sixtus IV presented him with the
revenues of the wealthy monastery in Passignano. When the boy
62 Michelangelo
was nine he was appointed Archbishop of Aix-en-Provence by
the King of France. But the pope would not confirm the appoint-
ment. When Sixtus died the following year, Lorenzo all the more
urgently entreated Innocent VIII, a friend of the house of Medici.
The archbishopric was now confirmed and a wealth of honorary
posts and clerical prebends fell to the boy. He became Abbot of
Monte Cassino, canon of three chapters, rector of six monasteries
in Italy and France-and Archbishop of Amalfi as well.
But to Lorenzo all this was not enough for his favorite son. He
craved the red hat for Giovanni. Here an obstacle rose up in that
Innocent himself had recently set thirty years as the minimum age
for the cardinalship; but the pope's eldest son, Francesco Cybo,
had been married in 1487 to Lorenzo's daughter Maddalena, so
that the appointment seemed reasonably certain.
And indeed, in 1489 Giovanni, then thirten years old, was
appointed cardinal, though only on the condition, not unreasona-
ble, that he wait three years before donning the robes. Thus it was
not until March 1492 that the future Pope Leo X held his magnifi-
cent entrance into Rome, through the Porta del Popolo. His father
then lay on his death bed.
Meanwhile in Florence the monk Fra Girolamo Savonarola
( 1452-1498) inveighed against the secularization of the Church.
He stuck closely to the Scriptures, which were not known to the
people, and in the beginning drew only small audiences to listen
to his fiery though crude and formless sermons, which he delivered
in the Lombard dialect, to boot. His penitential exhortations were
all the less appealing since his rival, Fra Mariano fra Genazzano,
possessed a mellifluous voice and, in Poliziano's description, was
able to speak in majestic phrases. But time passed and official
morality in Florence grew more and more austere. Dice were now
cast only indoors and the ladies discarded dresses that had given
offense. Savonarola's influence over the common people grew and
his preachments threatened ever severer retribution. He began to
oppose Lorenzo.
When five of the most noted citizens went to him to ask greater
Florence 63
moderation, he challenged them rather to demand of Lorenzo that
he repent of his sins. And when he became Prior of San Marco he
omitted paying Lorenzo the visit customarily paid by the priori
to the head of the house of Medici. He insisted-the year was
i491-that he owed his election solely to God, whom alone he
would give obedience.
During Lorenzo's final illness Savonarola did indeed visit him,
but he demanded not only repentance as a condition for forgive-
ness of sins but also freedom for Florence. The dying man an-
swered by turning his head to the wall.
The Duke of Milan, Ludovico il Moro, sent a famous Lombard
physician, Lazaro da Pavia, to the Villa Careggi where II Magni-
fico lay ill. When Lorenzo learned that his medicine was to be
composed of powdered pearls, jewels and other precious minerals,
he turned to Poliziano with shining eyes and said: "Do you hear
that, Angelo, do you hear that?" We can scarcely wonder today
that the great Florentine nevertheless died soon afterward, any
more than we wonder at the death of Julius II, who was given
molten gold to drink.
Lorenzo died on April 8, i492, at the comparatively youthful
age of forty-three, after a great and busy life not too greatly
marred by blunders, some of which were his own, while others
must be laid at the doorstep of his time. His physician threw him-
self down a well at the Villa Careggi, fearing no doubt that his life
was forfeit in any event, since many would believe he had poi-
soned his master, a common suspicion in those days.

M1cHELANGELO WAS MOLDED and destined by the

spirit that prevailed in Rome as strongly as by the spirit of Flor-
Lorenzo, the academicians, the statues in the garden of San
Marco-these gave him insight into the ideals of Platonism, the
spirit of antiquity. The rise of Savonarola impinged on the life of
his mind, matured within him the makings of exalted gravity, of
an understanding of the Old Testament. Florence gave him a
penchant for studying nature, for launching out into the new, for
cultivating the newly found relics of Graeco-Roman antiquity.
In Rome-where he served Julius II and came in touch with
Rome 65
Bramante, first as an antagonist, later as an intellectual peer-he
found occasion to develop the streak of grandeur in his nature, to
shape immense compositions that will live forever undimmed,
despite the inevitable ravages of time on fresco painting. Had
Michelangelo not entered the service of the popes, it is unlikely
he would ever have had occasion to show the world what dwelt
within him. Being a titan would have availed him nothing, had
he been compelled to labor for some petty prince or other, unable
to defray the cost of executing grandiose plans.
Even in Florence Michelangelo's finest works were papal com-
missions. Certainly the Moses, the Sistine and Medici Chapels, the
Dome of St. Peter's owe their existence to his relationship with
the papacy. He lived under no fewer than thirteen popes; and of
these Julius II, Leo X, Clement VII were of outstanding, Paul III
and Paul IV of lesser but still considerable importance to his life-


The Papal State was founded about i500 by Alexander VI.

Slowly but quite naturally the view had prevailed that spirit-
ual dominance could never assert itself without worldly power.
Applied to the position of the pope, this realization was bound to
lead to the conclusion that the Pope of Rome would ever be in
thrall to the potentates of Europe-emperors, kings or princes-
unless the Church had her own secular and continuing sov-
Since Gregory VII's decree of 1074 celibacy within the Roman
Church had held such sway that officially no pope could have
children. Even nepotism, the granting of clerical offices and rev-
enues to one's kin, had been severely frowned upon and thus
occurred but rarely. Yet now it was deemed useful and proper for
66 Michelangelo
a pope to have sons upon whom he could rely in his struggles
against secular enemies and nepotism had become almost a duty
the pope was required to observe toward those close to him.
Lorenzo de' Medici had married off one of his daughters to the
pope's son and, as we have seen, had urged the pope to make his
own minor son a cardinal. He reminded Innocent VIII that no
man is immortal, that even a pope means no more than he means
to mean. Since his position could not be rendered hereditary, he
left no more behind than the honors and benefices he was able to
confer upon his own.
When Sixtus IV took a hand in the Pazzi conspiracy against
the house of Medici, it was because the Medici were in his way,
because he sought to carve out a principality for his nephew
Girolamo Riario in the Romagna. Since the Colonna family was
hostile to Riario, he pursued them with his hatred, shrank from no
breach of faith when it came to advancing the interests of his
nephew. He arrested a Colonna, his own prothonotary, right in
the Colonna house, threatening to set the young man free only if
the family ceded Marino to him. He got Marino-and had young
Colonna beheaded.
In 1492 Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) ascended the papal
throne. A Spaniard, he enjoyed the backing of the world power
Spain in the conclave, enabling him to scotch his rivals by buying
them out. To induce Ascanio Sforza to renounce his candidacy
and support his own, Borgia offered Sforza a completely furnished
palazzo in Rome and as much gold as several mules could carry.
The powerful Orsini, Colonna and Savelli families he won over
with promises of bishoprics, castles, cities. He was elected by
these means. The choice met with general approval, for as a cardi-
nal Rodrigo had shown not only an ingratiating manner but diplo-
matic skill as well. He was believed to possess the necessary en-
ergy to restore order in Rome, where in the brief time between
Innocent VIII's illness and Alexander Vi's election two hundred
twenty murders had been committed.
Alexander VI, however, was himself a virtuoso in the fine art of
Rome 67
murder. He knew how to mix and administer poison as well as did
Locusta in ancient Rome; indeed, his cantarella was stronger and
surer than her venomous drops and toadstools. When he had poi-
soned even Cardinal Orsini-whose vote he had won by a sub-
stantial bribe of land-he told the Sacred College in a tone of
irony: 'We commended him most warmly to our physicians."
Rome under the heel of the Borgia was as vulnerable to poison in
i506 as was Laocoon, whose statue had just been unearthed, to
the serpents coiling about him and his sons.
Wrote Francesco Capello, Venetian Ambassador in Rome, to
his Signoria upon Alexander's accession: "The pope is seventy
years old but grows younger by the day. He is frivolous in char-
acter and thinks but of his own interests. His sole ambition is
marry off his children well, with rich dowries. He has no other
The orgies of the papal court outdid those of the most de-
praved emperors of ancient Rome. The diaries of Johannes Bur-
cardus include an oft-cited passage in which he describes how,
in honor of Lucrezia, the pope's daughter, on October 31, i501,
fifty courtesans performed a dance in a chamber of the Vatican,
"at first clothed and then naked. After dinner the candelabras with
their burning tapers were removed from the table to the floor and
chestnuts were strewn about them, which the naked courtesans
had to gather up, crawling on hands and feet among the burning
lights. The Pope, the Duke (Cesare Borgia) and the Duchess
Lucrezia, his sister, were present and watched."
The pope's own lassitude, hedonism and ruthlessness were
heightened, in his son Cesare, to evil in the grand manner. Cesare's
cruelty was not based on madness or delusions, as in certain Ro-
man emperors. He was cold and clear-headed, utterly free of con-
science or regret, fearing neither man nor God.
Burcardus relates how, one day after dinner, Cesare, dressed
for the hunt, had six men who h ad been sentenced to be beheaded
by the sword brought into St. Peter's Square, which he had barred
off with timbers. Mounted on his horse, he then chased them about
68 Michelangelo
the square, bringing them down one by one with his arrows. The
Pope, his daughter, his son-in-law and his mistress Giulia Bella
watched this evocation of the ancient circus spectacle from a bal-
,, The quarrel between the Orsini and Colonna and their parties
had heretofore prevented establishment of a Papal State. Alex-
ander made a bargain with the Guelphs and Orsini, an alliance
that enabled him to drive the Sforza from Pesaro, Catarina Sforza
from Imola and Forll, the Malatesta from Rimini, the Manfreddi
from Faenza; but scarcely had the Orsini done their work as allies
when the pope treated them as though they were enemies. Cesare
attacked them, drove out the Duke of Urbino, enticed the leaders
of the Orsini, Vitelli and Baglioni families into his house and had
them murdered; Vitellozzo and Oliveretto were the first to be
strangled. When Cesare learned that the pope had captured Car-
dinal Orsini and Jacopo da Santa Croce, he had Pagolo and the
Duke of Gravina throttled as well.
The house of Borgia thus seemed well on the way to establish-
ing a dynasty in the Papal State. But then destiny wrought retribu-
tion on Alexander. He had conceived a plan to put five cardinals
out of the way with poison and the table was already set in a
Vigna 0 of the Vatican, when he and Cesare arrived, both of them
thirsty and asking for a drink. The wine steward, who knew the
secret of which bottles were harmless and which dangerous, had
just gone to the palace to fetch a basket of peaches. His servant,
either in error or through bribery by a wealthy cardinal, took the
wrong bottle of '1aced" Chios wine and poured for father and son.
The poison killed the aged pope instantly. Cesare had apparently
inured his powerful body to poison, after the example of Mithri-
dates. 00
Nevertheless the corrosive powder called cantarella attacked
0 Vigna, a villa in a vineyard.
0 0 This is how some contemporary historians-Pietro Dembo, Paolo Giovio, etc.-
tell the story. According to Burcardus, however, the pope died of fever. Modem
writers since Gregorovius incline to believe Burcardus rather than the others.
Rome 69
his bowels. He survived, though supposedly only at the cost of
losing all the hair on his body, yet feeling as strong and vital as a
serpent that has stripped off its old skin.
Machiavelli writes: "The Duke of Valentino 0 told me he had
thought of every contingency that might arise upon the death of
his father and had arranged a way to meet them all. The one
chance he had not considered is that he might himself be deathly
ill at the hour of the pope's death."
So strong was hatred of the pope that his body was allowed to
remain the whole night in a chapel of San Pietro in Vincoli, with-
out lights, attended by no priest, exposed to the coarse mockery
of young ruffians. Toward morning, with kicks and blows, it was
forced into a coffin much too small. So great was the prevailing
savagery that Fabio Orsini, having killed one of Cesare Borgia's
men, rinsed his mouth with blood from his victim.
Cesare ably extricated himself from the collapse. He fortified
the Vatican against the city, bargained with the Conclave, with
dagger in hand forced the Cardinal Treasurer to surrender his
father's riches, and left Rome as intrepidly as he used to hold his
entries. The feeble Pius III who emerged as pope from the Con-
clave was impotent against him.
Cesare left Rome still ailing, stretched out on a pallet borne by
twelve halberdiers. Beside him two pages led his mount in mourn-
ing accouterments. The bier was surrounded on all sides by his
veteran musketeer mercenaries who had fought with him in all the
civil wars he had kindled in Italy.
He went to Naples. The powerful Julius II, who succeeded
Pius III, at once compelled Cesare Borgia to surrender all his
strongholds in the Romagna. Ferdinand the Catholic, King of
Spain, had him seized in Naples and brought to Spain, where he
spent two years as a prisoner in the fortress Medina del Campo.
He escaped by letting himself down on a rope and swinging across
Cesare Borgia is usually mentioned by this name in contemporary writings-he
was Duke of Valentinois.
70 Michelangelo
the moat, made his way to his brother-in-law, the King of Navarre,
with whom he lived as commander of the army, until he fell from
a Moorish spear during the siege of Viana in 1507.
His sister Lucrezia seems to have been far better than her
reputation. She was first married at the age of thirteen, to Gio-
vanni Sforza, whom she was compelled to divorce at the age of
seventeen, so that the pope could ally himself to the Neapolitan
dynasty. At eighteen she married Don Alfonso, Duke of Bisceglie,
a nephew of King Alfonso. This husband of hers was murdered by
her brother Cesare two years later, on August 18, 1500, whereupon
she, now aged twenty-one, married a third time, this time Alfonso,
heir apparent of Ferrara, whom she bore three sons. She was gen-
erally popular in Ferrara. Ariosto sang her praises. Aldus admired
her. To Bembo she was the ideal of femininity. Bayard, the che-
valier sans peur et sans reproche, chose her as his lady, wore her
colors, worshiped her platonically all his life.


We find the earliest portrait of Pope Julius II on the famous

mural by Melozzo da Forll, Sixtus IV and His Court, painted in
1476 and now in the Pinacoteca of the Vatican (No. 141). Julius
was Sixtus' nephew and by no means without influence, but nei-
ther was he the pope's favorite, unlike the other nephew on the
painting, Girolamo Riario, who was married to Catarina Sforza.
At the time of the painting the pope-to-be was thirty-three
years old. Though he is a subordinate figure, the vigor of his fea-
tures is commanding. Giuliano della Rovere-that was his name-
had been a Franciscan friar like his uncle the pope, who had
named him Cardinal of San Pietro in Vincoli in 1471. His expres-
sive face is animated by unquenchable ambition, revealed in his
tightly knit brows, the firmly closed mouth, the fiery glance. At the
Rome 71
same time there is an air of sadness in this countenance, as though
the clever and pugnacious young man had an inkling of the many
obstacles that would pile up between him and his goal in the
course of time.
Sixtus IV suspected Giuliano of being avaricious as well as
ambitious and employed him for the most part on embassies that
kept him away from the Vatican. But the cardinal was by no
means always in disgrace. He seems to have been his uncle's ad-
viser on monumental art projects.
As the name indicates, the original decorations of the Sistine
Chapel were done at Sixtus' behest; yet the famous chapel was
actually consecrated by Cardinal Giuliano. His influence had
grown under Innocent VIII, who owed him his election in large
part. So great was that influence that envoys were heard on occa-
sion to complain of having to deal with two popes.
When Innocent died in 1492, Rovere was the candidate of
France for the papal tiara. As we have seen, he was crowded out
by the brazen machinations of Borgia, who was not inclined to be
considerate of a vanquished rival. The struggle between them
lasted ten years. Rovere first retired to his palazzo in Ostia, which
still stands. Still in i492, he fled to France, to escape one of those
accidents that were likely to befall cardinals who were not in
favor. He went first to his bishopric of Aix, then to the court of
Charles VIII, whom he tried his best to persuade to invade Italy.
With the aid of Charles and of Ludovico Sforza he tried to engi-
neer Alexander's dethronement; and when the king entered Rome
in January 1495, Rovere was in his train.
He was hopeful now that he was close to his goal; but Charles
was too weak and ineffectual to shake the power of the Borgia.
Disappointed, Rovere left Italy with the king and spent seven
years in idleness, mingled with constant apprehension, since Alex-
ander threatened to deprive him of his ecclesiastic equities and
the revenues therefrom.
Rovere saw himself constrained to bargain with the pope. This
was feasible only because of the influence he had gained at the
72 Michelangelo
French court. He offered his help in arranging Cesare's marriage
to a French princess. Agreement was in sight when amity was
suddenly shattered. A chimneyplace in the Vatican collapsed on
the pope, and the resultant rumors of his death set the army of
Louis XII in motion toward Rome, to secure Rovere's election.
But when the pope recovered his vengeance was aroused and
Giuliano trembled for his life.
In 1502 Alexander twice sought to have Rovere murdered, once
in Genoa, once in Savona. Among other things, he dispatched a
papal galley with two beautiful courtesans aboard. It was com-
manded by Francesco Troeco, who was privy to all the pope's
plans. Rovere was invited to visit the galley; but he kept under
cover so carefully that not even the police of the Venetian Council
of Ten could find him.
Not until Alexander died, on August 28, 1503, did Rovere
hasten from his hiding-place to the Conclave. The cardinals were
unable to reach agreement and, as a stopgap, elected the aged
and ailing Pius III, who died twenty-six days later. Now at last
the road was open to Giuliano della Rovere. He was elected on
November 1, taking the name Julius or Giulio II. He was then sixty
years old but passionately pugnacious, like a youth in fighting
trim. He was out to enlarge the Papal State, even if it took war
and conquest.
He found the parties within the State locked in internecine
feud. All the great families Cesare Borgia had driven out were
back The houses of Orsini, Colonna, Vitelli, Baglioni, Varanni,
Malatesta, Montefeltro had resumed their wonted places. Without
further ado the pope personally attacked those who refused him
obedience. He subjugated the Baglioni, who had regained posses-
sion of Perugia. He compelled the aged Gian Bentivoglio to aban-
don his palazzo in Bologna. He wrested the Papal State's coastal
cities from the Venetians, who had snatched them, carrying out
this feat in the face of greatly superior enemy forces. In this cam-
paign he took Parma, Piacenza and Reggio.
No matter how dismal his prospects, his courage was un-
Rome 73
quenchable and he knew no fear. These qualities brought the mili-
tant pope, hardened by failure and exile, secular power such as
none of his predecessors had possessed. Neither the hardships of
the field nor the dissipations of peace unsettled him. Commenting
on his militancy, Machiavelli wrote: "Heretofore even the pettiest
baron held the papal power in contempt; now even the king of
France must reckon with it."
The Church was bound to become secularized under a pope
who represented an elemental force-warrior, lecher, gourmand.
Cardinals were appointed because they were favorites, or simply
for money. Bishoprics were distributed as sinecures, wherever they
brought greatest advantage to the pope's finances. Every favor
shown had to be repaid, and the prices rose steadily. Even the law
that no cleric could inherit his father's office was thrown over-
board. For money a bishop could get anyone appointed coadjutor.
Thus unqualified and inexperienced men came into the enjoy-
ment of benefices, which they then administered as cheaply as
possible, preferably through friars mendicant.
Sixtus IV, himself a Franciscan, had already given these monks
all manner of privilege-to hear confession, give communion and
administer extreme unction, to be buried in monastic habit in the
order's ground. Now that they were entrusted with high ecclesias-
tic office, their influence grew even further. It was they too who
ran the traffic in indulgences, which in time spread so very far
and wide.


Yet the secularization of the Church also brought some good.

The Catholic view of the world underwent a change from the un-
wor Idly isolation of the Middle Ages. Acquaintance with classical
antiquity shattered the narrow medieval outlook.
74 Michelangelo
True, the Arabs had already appropriated the traditions of an-
cient Greece-but they had gone about it quite differently. Trans-
lating the old texts into Arabic, they steeped them in Oriental
ideas. Aristotelianism became theosophy, astronomy astrology,
employed even in medicine. The Italians, on the other hand,
sought but enlightenment. From the Romans they proceeded to
the Greeks, and the art of printing broadcast the ancient classics in
many copies. Geography was learned from Ptolemy, medicine
from Hippocrates and Galen.
The humanists fought against any belief in tradition and their
worship of nature culminated in rebellion against any doctrine of
renunciation. Even Lorenzo Valla, who died in i457, had pro-
claimed: "Let the precepts rest and reason speak!" He knew no
respect, acknowledged the authority of the ancient writers no
more than that of his contemporaries.
In De Professione Religiosorum he denied any merit to the
monastic life and insisted that those who did not take vows over-
came far greater temptations. The pledges of poverty, chastity
and obedience he characterized as mere phrases. "Had the priest
but one spouse," he exclaimed, "rather than more than one courte-
In his dialogue, De Voluptate, he posed the question of
whether lust was indeed a good thing and gave this answer:
"Verily, I declare and testify that I desire nothing more than
sensual pleasure." One of his speakers says that one must not
rise against nature, that tenderest of mothers, and develops the
thought further in these words: "We stand amid a paradise of
joys. Had we but fifty senses rather than five! Not only is virginity
the worst of blights-it is a disgrace." One has to wait for the
philosophic literature of eighteenth-century France before again
finding passages like this.
The customs of the clergy accorded with the humanist doc-
trine. There had long been priests who actually owned brothels.
Even Pius II had to forbid them procuring for prostitutes. When
the prohibition was of no avail, Innocent VIII had to renew Pius'
Rome 75
bull. It was but meet and fitting for every priest to have his con-
cubine-what was bad was when a prostitute took the place of
the concubine. Burcardus in his diaries says that virtually all
monasteries were beyond question hotbeds of sexual license
( monasteria nobis quasi omnia ;am facta sunt lupanaria, nemine
contradicente-Burcardi Diarium, Paris, 1884, Volume III, page
As for the princes, their way of life had long been in keeping
with that of the clergy, and courtiers had no fault to find with
them. In 1475 Galeazzo Sforza with all his court rode to the home
of Lucia di Marliano and bought her from her husband, Ambrogio
de' Raverti. A formal contract of conveyance was drawn up, as-
signing the lady for the Duke's use. In 1494, as related by Masuc-
cio to Queen Hippolyta in his Novellino, King Alfonso II of Naples
and Sicily had succeeded in arranging a tryst with a married
lady; but so broad-minded was he that he permitted one of his
courtiers who was enamored of the lady to enjoy her favors before
he did. "What a Prince!" Masuccio exclaimed. "Fortunate those
who serve him and bask in his presence, fortunate above all the
immortal goddess Hippolyta, his worthy mate!"
Indeed, apart from such a figure as Savonarola, opposition in
Italy to the character of the Roman Catholic Church was on hu-
manist rather than moral grounds. It had to do with science and
literature, infected the very Church itself, for the popes them-
selves, whether violent or peaceable, were deep down touched with
the spirit of paganism. In other words, there was in Italy a brand
of paganism that was actually in league with the Church, pro-
tected by it, hence by no means a threat to the papacy.
Literature discovered no new truths, sought only to compre-
hend antiquity. Latin was written to perfection, even in metric
form, and spoken with assurance and fluency by the members of
the upper crust. Neo-Latin poetry was the fashion. Poggio's clever
epigrams were enjoyed, and the poems of Bembo and Sadolet
which, though clothed in the forms of antiquity, were art in their
own right.
76 Michelangelo
In comedy the ancients were emulated. Usually a piece by
Plautus formed the point of departure. Even when the language
is Italian, as in Machiavelli's Mandragola or in Cardinal Bibiena's
Calandria, the humor is that of Plautus or Terence, except for a
deliberate shamelessness not found in the ancient dramatists.
Pietro Aretino, in his comedies, took care not to be a mere imita-
tor. His Cortigiana, Marescales, Ipocrita are satirical studies of
reality that inspired Rabelais, Shakespeare and Moliere.
His tragedy, L'Orazia, ranks high; yet even Livy's tale scarcely
aroused Aretino to the heights of real pathos. Indeed, the Italian
Renaissance was virtually incapable of engendering tragedy. It
acknowledged no moral law. Most of its prominent men of action
lacked all conscience, hence the soil of tragedy was lacking.
The most famous Renaissance tragedy is Ludovico Martelli's
Tullia, written in i527. These lines occur in it:
E l'impresa fu giusta, perche multa
si puote oprar per accquistarsi un regno
che de leggi divine o l'altre varchi.

"The deed was justified," they say, "for when it comes to ac-
quiring power, there is no law, divine or human, that one is not
fully entitled to break."
Deep down if not on the surface Julius II was as thoroughly
steeped in this notion as Cesare Borgia. The old basilica of St.
Peter's, center of Christendom and touchstone of so many mem-
ories of the Church, the pope had torn down to erect in its place
what was in effect an ancient temple. The Renaissance ideal of
what a church should be is shown in the background to Raphael's
School of Athens-a bright and solemn colonnaded hall decked
with statuary. No more was the church to be a place of mystery
for the worship of God but a poetically conceived auditorium, a
Platonist academy for the edification of the initiate.
Bramante, who sought in his architecture to translate the dark-
ling Church Latin into the bright tongue of the humanists, en-
visioned the new St. Peter's as a Pantheon dome soaring on
Rome 77
mighty, lofty columns. The ovenvrought sweep of the Gothic age
had aspired to lift man almost bodily from the ground. Bramante
wished to work his effect by a pleasing, rhythmic balance in the
proportions of length, breadth and height, through the solemn
splendor of buttresses and arches done with the sure sense of form
of the ancients.
Thus it was precisely at the center of the Catholic world that
a huge, consecrated structure rose, completely in the spirit of
ancient worship.
True, the pope was still challenged to wage war against the
infidel followers of Mohammed, though the conquest of the Holy
Sepulchre was no longer envisioned. Such a challenge was thrown
down to Julius II in the preface to the Orations of Cicero by Nau-
gerius-i.e., the humanist poet Andrea Navagero; but it was actu-
ally inspired by the hope that the countries of Islam might yield
up long-lost Roman and Greek scriptures.

Thus Italy at bottom knew no conflict between the antiquity-

loving humanist opposition to dogmatism and a papacy pervaded
no less by the spirit of ancient Rome. In Germany, on the other
hand, opposition was clear-cut and of altogether different cast-
clerical, moralizing and theologic.
Luther, in the habit of an Augustinian monk, came to Rome at
a time when almost half of the ancient basilica of St. Peter's had
been torn down. He then still believed that if he mounted the steps
to the porch of the church on his knees he would receive absolu-
tion for seven times as many years as there were steps. He then
still believed that the soul of a pilgrim dying in Rome would be
borne to heaven by angels. He was eager to behold the kerchief
of St. Veronica with the imprint of Christ's face, and the rope with
which Judas had hanged himself.
78 Michelangelo
A monk like Luther, to whom the question of celibacy was not
only a serious but a sacred matter, was bound to take deep offense
at the life led by the clergy in Rome without drawing public cen-
sure. An upright theologian of the people, he was deeply im-
pressed with the famous late fourteenth-century religious tract,
Theologia Deutsch," which called on man to surrender his own
will to God's. Pervaded with such notions as sin and justification,
he could not but be deeply repelled by the traffic in indulgences,
whose aim for the most part was to raise funds for the erection of
the great new temple of St. Peter's.
Forgiveness of sins for money-the very thought must have
been an abomination to him; and his resentment was bound to
carry him further and further-all the way to attacking the Church
entire and its head, the pope. The friars mendicant had been the
most devoted adherents of the papacy. From their midst now
rose its most vehement assailant. Luther's opposition was water
on the mill of unbelievers in Germany, soon suited even a man like
Ulrich von Hutten, who at first had held aloof from it. Thus it
swiftly gained impetus and found a resounding echo.
The princes looked upon the movement as serving their in-
terests. In their struggle against the papacy nothing could
have been more welcome to them than a clerical opposition.
Charles VIII had viewed Savonarola as an ally against Alexan-
der VI; and similarly Maximilian I regarded the emerging Luther
as a help in his clash with the pope. Charles V took the self-same
view. He desired that no harm be done to the monk, indeed, ex-
pressly enjoined the Elector of Saxony to look after him: "One
might some day have use for him."
Pope Leo X, however, was not blind to the danger. His hopes
necessarily went in the direction of suppressing this religious re-
form movement in league with the Emperor. Once he had con-
cluded an alliance with Charles at the Diet of Worms for the
Luther found a manuscript of the German Theology, without the title of the
book or the name of the author, and published it in i516. It was one of the most
successful books of the period . Some seventy editions followed, two of them
edited by Luther himself.
Rome 79
reconquest of Milan, Luther was officially placed under the im-
perial ban. But Luther was kept under cover in the Wartburg,
and knowing Italian politicians realized full well that Emperor
Charles V had noted the pope's dread of Luther's doctrine and
wished to use Luther to exert pressure on the pope.


Pope Julius II was of markedly choleric temperament, ever

given to action. Like the great artist Michelangelo, whose name is
forever linked with his, he has been called terribile. He did not
hesitate to use his stick on any one who contradicted him; but
he was always kind to his own clan.
It is appropriate to cite a few examples of how systematically
Julius II proceeded in providing for the members of his family.
There was young Francesco Maria Rovere, son of Giovanni di
Sinigaglia and Giovanna Montefeltro. The boy was reared in
strictest piety, but developed as a soldier at the same time, be-
coming a comrade-in-arms of Gaston de Foix, the victor of Ra-
venna. The pope had the boy adopted by Guidobaldo and ap-
pointed him, at the age of thirteen, prefect of the City of Rome.
When Francesco was fifteen, the pope concluded a marriage be-
tween him and the eleven-year-old daughter of the Marchesa of
Mantua, of the house of Gonzaga, which pledged a dowry of
25,000 florins. The marriage was contracted per procura in i505
and celebrated in Rome with great splendor in 1509. Bull fights
and other popular entertainments were held.
Then there was young Niccolo Rovere. The pope married him
to Laura Orsini, daughter of the widow Giulia Farnese, with
whom Pope Alexander VI had begotten the child. The marriage
took place in the Vatican. Soon afterward the mother embarked
on a marriage with a herculean Neapolitan-but she quickly left
80 Michelangelo
him to resume her life of freedom. Her daughter Laura paid scant
attention to either husband or home.
When Julius's daughter Felice came to Rome in 1504, her
beauty created a great stir. She rejected the courtship of the
Prince of Salerno, since he was possessed of no property. Nego-
tiations were then begun with the leader of the Orsini, Giangior-
dano di Bracciano. This arrogant and dull-witted nobleman looked
down on the daughter of the pope, but 15,000 florins persuaded
him to marry her, in 1506. He consummated his physical union
with her right in the chapel, then demonstrated his contempt by
serving but the meagerest meal for the twenty wedding guests-
two roast muttons, half a lamb, a saddle of venison and a single
capon. There were no knives on the table and the bridegroom sat
with his hat on, in the Spanish custom. Fortunately for Felice, he
died soon afterward. She was accounted one of Rome's most
charming ladies.
The pope arranged another political union between his niece,
Lucrezia Rovere, and a brave and intelligent member of the
Colonna family, Marcantonio Colonna. The two great rival fami-
lies, Colonna and Orsini, were both to be linked in kinship with
the house of Rovere. In January 1508 Julius presented the young
couple with the still famous Palazzo Colonna, which he had had
built beside the church of Santi Apostoli when he was a Cardinal.
He also gave his son-in-law Frascati as a fief.
An old favorite, whom Julius II kept constantly beside him
during his last years, was young Federigo Gonzaga, son of the
Marchese of Mantua. Having appointed the Marchese Gonfalo-
niere of the Church, he wished to keep the son at his court as a
hostage. The mother, Isabella d'Este, whose aristocratic mien
Leonardo immortalized for us in his fine drawing, 0 had resisted
sending the ten-year-old boy as a hostage to the court of the Em-
peror, which had a reputation for immorality, but in this instance
Isabella offered no objections. The boy came well-recommended,
being related to the house of Rovere. He seems to have been
0 Various copies extant, the best in the Louvre.
Rome 81
exceedingly talented and he ingratiated himself not only with
Julius but the entire court. He remained unaffected by the at-
mosphere that pervailed at the papal court, even though the tone
was set by such dissolute men as Bibbiena, Bembo and Francesco
Molza. The manners at his home, Urbino, moreover, had been so
free and easy that they could scarcely be outdone in Rome. While
Julius was laying siege to Mirandola, the boy was given permis-
sion to spend the carnival season in Urbino. No one took offense
when the ladies-in-waiting set their caps for him there, nor did
even Isabella d'Este take the love letters sent to her :fifteen-year-
old son amiss.
In April 1511 the pope returned to Rome with Federigo. His
devotion to the boy was now so deep that the senators and con-
servators gave a banquet for Federigo at the Capitol, during which
Plautus' comedy, Gemini was performed. At the Vatican a poet
recited verses in his honor. Raphael had to portray him with his
blond locks as one of the bystanders in the School of Athens.
In the year 1506 the pope rode in procession, followed by
thirty-five cardinals, to lay the cornerstone for the new St. Peter's.
Among those present was the architect Donato Bramante of
Urbino, only a few years younger than the pope, who had worked
many years in Milan but had come to Rome after the fall of Ludo-
vico Sforza in 1500. In Lombardy brick had been his only raw
material, and his ornaments had to be molded in terracotta; but
now, in Rome, he was in the presence of the marble ruins of an-
Tentatively, so to speak, he first built that little gem, the
"Tempietto," in the courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio, then the
cloister of San Maria della Pace with its unadorned colonnade,
which became his point of departure. Julius had found his archi-
tect and began to neglect his former favorite, Giuliano de San
Gallo, at whose urging Michelangelo and Sansovino had come to
Rome. The project for a great tomb for Julius II, with which
Michelangelo had been charged, was crowded into the back-
ground when Bramante displaced San Gallo in the pope's favor.
82 Michelangelo
During the carnival season of i513 Julius' victories were cele-
brated with great festivities in Rome. The Pope, however, lay ill
abed. He set the program for the carnival and the next day gave
instructions about his interment. On February 21 he died. With
him died the surging pagan spirit in the papal power, with its well-
managed policies of secularism, its flair for art as a tool of the
spirit, for which no plan was too great, no task too formidable-
indeed, which strove for the ancient ideal of the monumental.


We have seen what trouble Lorenzo de' Medici took to achieve

the appointment of his youngest son as cardinal. The goal was won
in boyhood, and the young cardinal was proclaimed Pope Leo X
when only thirty-seven. Scarcely ever had the Conclave of Cardi-
nals chosen so youthful a candidate. Giuliano, however, had
gained their good will by his courtesy and good manners, by the
excellent banquets and splendid festivals he gave. He offered a
welcome contrast to his hot-tempered predecessor, who used to
deal out curses and blows. Not the least of his qualifications was
that, despite his youth, he did not seem destined for a long life
-he was obese and short of neck, easily fatigued.
The procession celebrating the day, March i5, i513, that Leo
ascended the papal throne, was graced by the presence of Ma-
donna Laura Farnese. It passed under several triumphal arches,
including one by Agostino Chigi, an inscription on which paid
tribute to Leo's proclivity for surrounding himself with artists and
for enjoying music and song, entertaining comedies, crude pranks
and the witticisms of court jesters. It read:
Ol[im] habuit Cypris sua tempora, tempora Mavors,
Ol[im] habuit: sua nunc tempora Pallas habet.
Rome 83
(The meaning is: Alexander VI venerated Venus; Julius II Mars;
with Leo begins the age of Pallas Athena.)
In thus glorifying a member of the house of Medici, Agostino
Chigi, the great banker of the moment, made obeisance to the
representative of the great banking house he had supplanted.
Sixtus IV had ended the relationship of the papal chair with
the Medici family. He had taken part in the Pazzi conspiracy and
Francesco Pazzi had been his banker. To make up for the loss of
revenue and influence the Medici had suffered, Innocent VIII had
again entrusted his financial affairs to Lorenzo and given him the
alum pits at Tolfa. But after Innocent's death the Medici never
regained their position of trust at the papal court. Lorenzo's
prodigality and his neglect of the banking business had under-
mined confidence in the Medici bank. Two new banking houses
had arisen in Rome, Altoviti and Chigi, both names well known
to the history of art.
It was to Bindo Altoviti that Michelangelo gave the cartoon
for one fresco in the Sistine Chapel, The Drunkenness of Noah;
and it was for him that Raphael painted The Madonna dell' Im-
pannata." But Bindo's rival, Agostino Chigi, was the more enter-
prising and brazen. Without Chigi's aid Julius II could have
waged no wars. The popes were in the habit of putting only their
tiaras in pawn. Lorenzo in his time had redeemed the precious
tiara which Innocent VIII had pawned in Genoa and in one year
had lent him 100,000 florins. Similarly, Chigi now lent Julius II
400,000 florins without interest, taking the tiara of Paul II in
pawn, though it did not approximate this amount in value; but
Chigi was able to extend his leases on the Tolfa alum workings-
which had once been granted to Lorenzo-and he secured a
monopoly of the alum trade in Europe and Asia. In partnership
with the Fuggers of Germany, he also leased the papal mint, and
he further leased the papal salt mines at Cervi, which brought him
enormous revenue.
0 This painting, now in the Palazzo Pitti at Florence, derives its name from the

sheet (pan no) that covers the window in the background.

84 Michelangelo
To flatter Pope Julius, Agostino Chigi, who had always main-
tained close relations with the city of Siena, had a fanciful pedi-
gree of the Rovere family prepared, which showed them to be
Sienese. This gave the pope a claim to part of the castle of Sugura
in the Sienese region. When Chigi actually ceded his share in
Sugura to Julius, the pope was overjoyed, received the Chigi
family into his own and granted Agostino the privilege of in-
scribing himself in his seal as Agostinus Chisius Sienensis de
Siena had appointed Chigi a senator, conferred the title Mag-
nifico on him and borrowed 8,ooo florins from him in i507. As
security he received the port called Port-Ercole, which he needed
for his trading fleet. The port was to become his, if the loan
were not repaid within forty years. Asked by Leo how rich he
was, Chigi replied that he did not know. He owned three great
trading emporia, in Rome, Port-Ercole and Naples, about ioo
branches, agencies in Byzantium, Alexandria, Memphis, Lyon and
London, and more than one hundred vessels. He employed twenty
thousand people.
Posterity remembers him for his liaison with the beautiful
courtesan Imperia, who enjoyed such renown that her court re-
sembled that of a cardinal. She never ventured abroad alone, but
was always attended by a large entourage. Chigi, who succeeded
another banker, Angelo dal Bufalo, in her favor, showered her
with princely gifts. Her features are believed to be perpetuated
for posterity in the Sappho on Raphael's Parnassus, painted in
i510, in the Stanza della Segnatura of the Vatican, as well as in
the kneeling woman on the same artist's Transfiguration, painted
in i519, after Imperia's death, and now in the Pinacoteca of the
Vatican. For Agostino Chigi Raphael also executed the cartoons
for the magnificent mosaic decorations of the ceiling of the Chigi
Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome ( i516).
Ultimately the Villa Farnesina was built and decorated for
Chigi. By 1510 construction had progressed sufficiently so that the
Duke of Urbino could be entertained there during the carnival
Rome 85
season. The decorations, begun in 1511, were completed in 1515.
Peruzzi and Raphael shared the work. Raphael is said to have
painted his Triumph of Galatea in two weeks-he was thirty-one
at the time. His friendship with Chigi cooled when the banker
began to dally with La Fornarina, with whom, as we know, the
artist was violently and jealously in love.


Leo X was no sensualist-he lacked both health and passion

to be one; but he did enjoy good company, sang well and knew
something about music.
He spent much time with his brother, the Duke of Nemours,
Giuliano de' Medici, a burned-out lecher who had lost all ambition
and had become a mystic, ruled by sorcerers and absorbed in
exaggerated religiosity. The duke was a tall, fair-haired man with
blue eyes, a long neck and delicate hands. So frail was his health
that he had to take to his bed on the smallest effort. The achieve-
ment of his life was the polishing of a few love sonnets. Michel-
angelo made of this weakling a Roman emperor, calm and im-
perious of gaze. 0
The pope's nephew Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, son of Piero de'
Medici and Alfonsina Orsini, was more robust in nature but
equally barren of all true ability. Moderate in food and drink, he
was a good horseman and huntsman, and his ambition ran to a
wealthy marriage and possession of a small principality. It was he
whom Michelangelo shaped into that great, brooding demigod
known as Il Pensieroso. 0
A kinsman destined for a greater future was Giulio de' Medici,
natural son of the Giuliano who had been cut down by the Pazzi.
Leo made him a cardinal, and he later became Pope Clement VII.
A statue in the Medici chapel at Florence, isz4-34.
86 Michelangelo
In point of fact, a number of Florentines moved to Rome to
put forward their claims as Leo's compatriots; and he did prefer
the sons of his ancestral city, keeping them in his entourage and
favoring them in many ways.
Bernardo Bibbiena, friend of Leo's youth, became treasurer of
the Roman Curia and soon afterward a cardinal. He was a tall,
spare Epicurean with a fine head, a crooked nose, thin lips, a
delicate smile and a melodious voice. His high clerical office did
not keep him from importuning the ladies. Raphael immortalized
Bibbiena in a famous portrait. The cardinal sought to gain a hold
over the artist by offering Raphael his sister in marriage; but
illustrious as was marriage to the sister of a cardinal, Raphael did
not feel equal to it.
Bibbiena's obscene comedy, Calandria, already mentioned,
was first performed in i513, during the carnival in Urbino. The
theme was taken from Plautus' Gemini, though it was here elab-
orated on its own. As later with Shakespeare, the twins were
brother and sister rather than brothers. Bibbiena died in i520.
One of Leo's favorites was Bernardo Accolti from Arezzo, a
sentimental troubadour. Women everywhere were mad about
him-apparently even Elisabeta Gonzaga and Lucrezia Borgia-
and so admired was his singing that crowds gathered to hear him
improvise to his lyra da braccio. What aroused particular enthusi-
asm was his Hymn to the Madonna, certain passages of which were
taken to be fraught with meaning. It described the Virgin as hav-
ing given birth to him through whom she had conceived, carry-
ing her own Creator within herself, giving life to him who had
given her life.
Like other ex tempore singers heard in the Vatican, Accolti
was richly rewarded and led a luxurious life. After the death of
Raphael, whose house was situated next to his own, he bought the
great artist's country estate.
Next to the improvisers-who usually recited in Latin-it was
the various court jesters, great and petty, who caused most of the
talk at Leo's court. An important position was occupied by
Rome 87
Camillo Guerno from Naples, gourmand, toper and poet. In 1519
the Pope let him deliver the opening address at the "Studiolo," a
kind of Roman university. Perhaps best-known is Brandino, a
former actor who also possessed talents as a chef.
One of the court jesters was a former tailor, who had taken up
astrology and foretold the future from the stars. Famous among
Leo's cap-and-bells, finally, was the Dominican Fra Mariano, who
had once been Lorenzo's barber, then became a monk under the
influence of Savonarola, and was now dubbed Head Jester (capo
di matti)-nor shrank from poking fun at bishops and cardinals
during meals. He was a notorious trencherman. Tito, the Sienese
chronicler, tells of him that at one meal he devoured twenty
capons, four hundred eggs and a variety of other dishes-which
may be something of an exaggeration.
The pope himself was temperate. Nevertheless, his cuisine
took all the revenue from Spoleto, the Romagna and the border
provinces. A regular escapade at court called for letting guests eat
the meat of ravens or monkeys without a warning. Fra Mariano is
said to have eaten a length of rope in the belief it was an eel, and
an old waistcoat baked into a pastry. As a reward for his wit he
was appointed "Pre-Sealer of the Papal Bulls," a highly remunera-
tive sinecure. In this office he was the successor to Bramante and
in turn gave way to Sebastiano del Piombo.
The scholars and poets at Leo's court fared less well than the
pranksters. The pope liked to fend them off with promises, as
Ariosto bitterly complains in one of his satires. The Duke of
Ferrara wanted to make the poet his ambassador to Clement VII,
but Ariosto preferred to remain in Ferrara. He had stood enough
frustration under Leo X.
The fact that the pope kept giving high office and preferment
to Florentines, or at least Tuscans, incensed the cardinals, es-
pecially young Cardinal Alfonso Petrucci, who had been very
active on behalf of Leo's election. His father was the dictatorial
ruler of Siena and his brother Borghese occupied high office in the
Sienese republic. The pope, however, gave support to the anti-
88 Michelangelo
Petrucci party in Siena and succeeded in getting the family
ejected. Thereupon Alfonso Petrucci resolved to poison the pope
and take advantage of the resultant confusion in Rome to restore
his father's rule in Siena.
Battista da Vercelli, a Florentine physician, was picked to
contaminate a boil on Leo's foot, causing gangrene. Petrucci
confided his plan to the cardinals Santi, Soderini and Riario. It
was Riario's secretary, a fellow named Nino, who was to gain the
doctor's cooperation. But a code message by Nino to Petrucci was
intercepted and deciphered. Nino was arrested and tortured. The
pope then advised Petrucci that he proposed to reinstate his
brother Borghese, but would first have to confer with Petrucci,
to whom he was therefore sending a safe-conduct; but no sooner
had Petrucci arrived when the pope had him and several others
cast in prison.
Lorenzo de' Medici, Duke of Urbino, made a special trip to
Rome to plead with the pope for the utmost rigor. There was no
lack of it. Nino and Vercelli were hanged, having been beaten
and tortured on the way to the gallows. Petrucci, aged twenty-
seven, was strangled by a powerful Negro named Roland, who was
in the service of the Medici-at Leo's behest and in the prison of
Sant' Angelo. The guilty cardinals were sentenced to heavy fines,
geared to their wealth. Soderini and Santi had to ransom their
lives with 25,000 florins each, while the wealthy Cardinal Riario
got off only when he paid a reparation of 150,000 florins.


To posterity Leo's name is forever linked with the greatest

artists of the Renaissance; for though his appreciation of art did
not go very far beyond the realm of music, he undeniably com-
missioned works that will never be forgotten.
Rome 89
He was least successful in coming to terms with so towering a
genius as Leonardo da Vinci. Leo simply did not know how to use
him, and let him move on from Italy to France without a murmur.
Nor did the pope really know how to tie down Michelangelo in
Rome. He was apparently pained that the sculptor who outshone
all others was to immortalize Julius II and the house of Rovere
with the gigantic tomb commissioned from him. What the pope
wanted was to harness the master's genius to the greater glory of
the house of Medici. But he went about it in such petty fashion
as to put intolerable difficulties in Michelangelo's way.
True, he charged Michelangelo with executing the fac;ade of
the Medici family church, San Lorenzo; but he handicapped the
artist with his zeal for conferring favors on Florence. He de-
manded that Michelangelo draw his marble, not from Carrara, as
had been the custom, but from the new Pietrasanta quarry near
Florence. This hurled Michelangelo into a veritable witches'
caldron of trouble, and in the end the plan came to nothing.
Michelangelo, for the rest, had no choice but to work with as-
sistants, which in the long run was always beyond his endurance.
Leo's features are represented with captivating grace and dig-
nity in Raphael's portrait, with the Cardinals Giulio de' Medici
and Ludovico de' Rossi (Palazzo Pitti, Florence), as well as in the
great fresco, The Meeting of Leo I and Attila, in the stanze of the
Vatican. The entire suite of Raphael's loggie in the Vatican is
linked with Leo's name. Bramante began their construction in
i510, and Raphael completed the inspired decorations in i518.
Here as in the stanze, he had to leave the execution to pupils.
To Leo's credit it must also be recorded that the entire interior
of the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo-the Medici Chapel with its
marvelous family tombs-goes back to his commission, even
though the project was not completed until long after the pope's
death. Riding rough-shod over Michelangelo's hostility toward
the house of Medici, he gave the great artist the commission,
precisely because of his unchallenged greatness.
Raphael's finest frescoes in the stanze were painted under
90 Michelangelo
Julius II; but the cartoons for the woven tapestries with which the
walls of the Sistine Chapel were to be decorated were designed
and woven under Leo. Seven of these cartoons are now in the
Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Rubens is said to have
saved them from destruction in Brussels, where the tapestries were
woven from Raphael's cartoons by Pieter van Aelst ( 1516-20).
They are kept in the Vatican.
Among the many offices entrusted to Raphael during his final
years was direction of the construction work on St. Peter's. Pri-
vately, the task seemed too exacting to him-so seriously did he
take it that he was not content with mere supervision but soon was
quite at home at the building site and was fond of taking a hand
Added to this onerous responsibility, Leo also burdened
Raphael with direction of the work of excavating antiquities in
Rome, a task to which the artist brought great enthusiasm. "From
these walls," he wrote, "speaks the divine spirit of antiquity." He
wandered among the relics of ancient Rome, drawing the ruins
and rejoicing over finds such as the ornamental paintings ( gro-
tesques) in the Baths of Titus.
As though this were not enough, Raphael also had to oversee
the construction of the stage which the pope's nephew, Cardinal
CybO, ordered built in Sant' Angelo; and he even had to design
the sets. For five long years Raphael had to wait for his fee as
architect of St. Peter's; then, in 1519, he was paid the whole sum
at once.
Leo was forever in financial straits. All the resources Julius II
had gathered to drive the foreigners out of Italy Leo spent to pay
off the debts he had incurred as a cardinal. A war he waged in
1516 to gain the Duchy of Urbino for his nephew Lorenzo cost
him more than the sale of cardinalships brought in in 1517. He
himself left such huge debts that several banks went bankrupt
at his death and a whole group of cardinals from whom he had
borrowed large sums were ruined.
But the disorder in the papal finances is of small concern to

Rome 91
posterity; nor does it matter that the fat little pope with the puny
legs was unable, on account of his indolence, to exert any personal
influence on the art and science of the Renaissance. His name re-
mains linked with that age at its fullest flower, cannot be divorced
from that of Raphael. The luminous name of Michelangelo reflects
glory on him, casual as was the personal relation between pope
and sculptor. Indeed, almost throughout Leo's reign Michelangelo
resided in Florence.

On the death of Leo X the Conclave dragged on. "Gentlemen,"

said Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, "I observe that none of us here
assembled can become pope. We must look for one who is not
here. Let us choose the Cardinal of Tortosa, a venerable old man
with the odor of sanctity.''
This was a Fleming, Adrian Floriszoon of Utrecht, formerly
professor in Louvain, who had been tutor to Charles V and
through the emperor's personal favor had become Gobernador of
Spain and a cardinal. He was an orthodox theologian, so un-
familiar with conditions in Rome that he did not even speak
Italian. Cardinal Cajetano began to sing his praises. The cardinals
were carried away when they heard of Adrian's rectitude, devout-
ness, thrift and gravity. The Roman in the street, who expected
largesse and public festivities of his popes, was embittered by the
cardinals' choice and inveighed against the monkish pope.
Adrian came, kept his name, became Pope Adrian VI, brought
along his aged housekeeper and conducted his office in the same
artless fashion that had marked his life in the Netherlands and
in Spain.
His reign was utterly out of keeping with the spirit of the
Renaissance. It was but an episode, yet in a way an omen of the
92 Michelangelo
austere and somber trend to be brought on by the Counter Ref-
ormation. Adrian took deep offense at the nude figures in Michel-
angelo's Sistine frescoes and covered his face when he stood be-
fore the much-admired Laocoon group.
When success began to attend Turkish arms, he sought to main-
tain peace among the princes of Christendom and observe neu-
trality in the struggle between Francis I and Charles V. The news
that the Turks had conquered Rhodes impressed him deeply. He
saw not only Hungary threatened, but Italy and Rome as well.
With the Turkish danger in mind, he sought to mediate and ad-
dressed himself to the King of France. He strove to turn aside the
attacks of the German reformers, endeavoring to disarm them by
righting abuses within the Roman Church. But the conquest of
Rhodes failed to impress the French king and the reform move-
ment in Germany would not be stilled.


When Pope Adrian VI died in September i523, one year after

his coronation, Giulio de' Medici was the only possible successor.
He had already wielded great influence under Leo and Adrian,
and he now mounted the papal throne under the name of Cle-
ment VII.
As a statesman he was well-intentioned, but his character was
marked by vacillation and his political situation was desperate
from the outset. He was obligated to Spain and had acted as
Spain's ally. The Spaniards had assisted in the expansion of the
Papal State and had restored the house of Medici in Florence. But
once the popes had wrested Milan from the French, they were re-
luctant to leave it to the Spanish. Now, under Charles V, Spain
Rome 93
was in a position of dominance. Clement had to tremble before
the power he had himself helped to strengthen.
In 1525 he tried to wean away the emperor's best general, who
was disgruntled. Clement had good reason to hope that the army
would follow its general. But Pescara, of Spanish birth and cul-
ture, promptly told the emperor of the pope's endeavor.
As early as November 1524 Clement had concluded a secret
alliance with Francis I. But his uncertainty made him resort to
duplicity, and in order to establish the best possible relations
between the papal and Spanish courts, he dispatched to Charles V
Baldassare Castiglione, the courtly author of the book Il Corte-
giano (The Courtier). When Castiglione departed from Mantua,
it was with a splendid entourage given him by Clement who en-
joined him to stop off at Milan and pay his respects to Charles de
Lannoy, assuring the Spanish viceroy of the pope's warmest senti-
ments for the emperor. He was then to journey to Francis I and
on this roundabout route to Spain gather reliable intelligence on
the relative strength of the French and Spanish troops, so that the
pope, if the need arose, could join the stronger side.
When Castiglione came to Milan, the French troops, who had
been promised papal support, had taken the city, and the viceroy
. had retired to Monticelli. There Castiglione sought him out and
heard from his lips a declaration, surely given with serious men-
tal reservations, to the effect that the emperor was convinced
of the pope's fatherly good will. In Milan Castiglione then pre-
sented himself to the French general, who received him with
honors, but advised him to visit the king, who was encamped
near Pavia. Carrying out his orders, Castiglione told the king that
the pope was intent only on preserving the peace and that his
own mission to the emperor was in no wise at odds with the
alliance concluded between Francis and Clement.
In Madrid Castiglione was warmly and ceremoniously re-
ceived by Charles V, who did not breathe a word that he knew all
about the pope making common cause with his enemy. Castiglione
94 Michelangelo
escorted the emperor on all his journeys, was in Toledo with him
in i525, in Granada in i526. Here the emperor learned of Pescara's
decisive victory at Pavia and of the capture of Francis I, news
that of course pleased him as much as it set afoot great unrest in
Because of his heedless policy, Clement now concluded a new
alliance with the Spanish viceroy. He dispatched Cardinal Salviati
to Spain to apologize for the many demonstrations of sympathy
the pope had shown France and divert the Emperor's ire by im-
ploring him to declare war on the infidel Turks.
It was at this time ( i526) that the Diet met at Spires, with
understandably neither the emperor nor his representative, Fer-
dinand of Austria, prepared to support the papal cause north of
the Alps at a moment when the pope's troops south of the Alps
stood ready to attack the imperial forces in Milan. The estates
were left free to take whatever stand they pleased on the religious
issue. This concession created a legal status for the Protestant
party. The pope hesitated; he wished to save on army expenses.
Meanwhile Georg Frundsberg crossed the Alps in i526 with
an army that was preponderantly Lutheran, to wreak vengeance
for the emperor. The passes into Tuscany could have been blocked
with 4,000 men; but Rome, which could have well mounted 30,000
men under arms, had courage and discipline prevailed in the city,
managed no more than 500.
Giovanni delle Bande Nere, Catarina Sforza's heroic son, to-
gether with the Duke of Urbino tried to hold the i4,ooo Germans
at Mantua in their march toward Rome. Victory seemed already
won, with 4,000 Germans littering the battlefield, when an enemy
ball shattered Giovanni's kneecap and he died following an opera-
tion. Cardinal Pompeo Colonna, an adherent of the emperor, fell
upon Rome with his mercenaries, as had been arranged with
Moncada, the Spanish ambassador, and compelled the pope, who
had fled to the Castel Sant' Angelo, to accept a humiliating peace
dictated by the Spanish.
Rome 95
But the emperor was not content and dispatched a large His-
pano-German army to Rome, under Charles of Bourbon, an apos-
tate cousin of Francis I. As we know, Charles of Bourbon was
felled by a ball from the Castel Sant' Angelo, fired by Benvenuto
Cellini-or so, at least, that valiant braggart maintained. The
savage host that stormed the city on May 6, i527, sacked and
pillaged the world capital, leaving behind a Rome that had been
thoroughly ruined. Il sacco di Roma-Charles V had the audacity
to tell Castiglione that this outrage was the pope's fault-marks
an epoch in the history of the Italian Renaissance.
It seems to have been the Spaniards who initiated the looting
and the atrocities. Like the Spaniards, the Germans were without
a supreme commander and, coarse mercenaries that they were,
hungry for booty. They were infected with the Spanish brutality
and vengefulness. They had suffered hardship and hunger on the
forced march to Rome, during which, in their zeal, they had
formed human chains to help one another across the obstructing
water-courses. Before them lay one of the wealthiest and most
luxurious cities on earth, which they had forever heard execrated
as the Whore of Babylon, to boot. From Luther's diatribes against
the Roman Church they had learned that the Pope of Rome was
the devil incarnate, the Anti-Christ, whom it was praiseworthy to
strike down. All they knew of the city itself was that its priests
and cardinals were sycophantic rogues, their women prostitutes,
their faith nothing but despicable superstition. They wallowed in
every manner of excess-inflicted tortures, gratified their lust,
looted and pillaged to their heart's content-and felt all the while
they were serving justice.
Gold and silver to the value of ten million was carried away
from Rome. The keenest delight was taken in forcing the rich to
ransom themselves with huge sums. As a pastime fires were set to
terrify the population. Campfires were kindled on the mosaic
floors of the Vatican, and stained-glass windows were smashed to
get at the lead mullions. The statuary in the public squares was
96 Michelangelo
smashed with a savagery matched in history only by the Vandals.
As devout Lutherans the soldiers were outraged by Mariolatry
and the churches and madonnas were badly mauled.
For half a year Rome remained in the clutches of the mercen-
aries. When Clement VII ventured forth from Sant' Angelo to
return to the Vatican, only 30,000 of the city's 90,000 inhabitants
were left. The pope who had hoped to break Spanish hegemony
in Italy was utterly humbled and had to witness the further con-
solidation of Spanish rule.


At the very time when Rome was ove1whelmed, the Medici

pope had to suffer the expulsion of his family from Florence.
As Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, Clement himself had ruled the
city under Leo X. Subsequently he had installed the Cardinal of
Cortona as regent, a strict one, hated by the citizenry whom he
oppressed with levies. The two dukes whom Michelangelo immor-
talized had left no legitimate male issue, though each of them had
a natural son. The elder, Ippolito, was the son of Giuliano with a
noble lady of Urbino; the younger, Alessandro, was of uncertain
descent-his mother a mulatto slave, his father either Lorenzo or
a groom or perhaps even Clement himself.
In April 1527 a popular rebellion, supported by nobles hostile
to the Medici, broke out in Florence. Cortona, Ippolito and Ales-
sandro sought aid from the Duke of Urbino, who was encamped
with his troops near the city. They returned with l,ooo men.
There was a brief clash among the parties, notable only because
a bench hurled from the Palazzo Vecchio knocked off the left arm
of Michelangelo's David, then standing before the building. A
provisional settlement was reached, however. Ippolito, though
but fifteen years old, was to have any office he chose. Cortona now
had 3,000 men under arms. But when the evil tidings about the
Rome 97
capture of Rome reached Florence, the Medici felt the game was
up. They left the city on May i5, i527, and a popular government
under a Grand Council, with Niccolo Capponi as Gonfaloniere,
was installed for one year.
For fear of uprisings, the pope made new approaches to the
emperor, hoping to gain his support against the Protestants. And
indeed, Charles V showed himself unfriendly toward the Lutheran
emissaries who sought him out in Italy.
The Counter Reformation now resolutely raised its head. In a
missive to the Emperor, Cardinal Campeggio emphasized that it
was now a matter of exterminating the heretics with fire and
sword and of seizing their property in Germany, as in Hungary
and Bohemia. Holy Inquisitors should be charged with hunting
them down like the Marranos (Neo-Christians) in Spain. The Uni-
versity of Wittenberg must be excommunicated. The monks who
had left their orders must be sent back to the monasteries.
But Charles V lacked the temperament so forcible a policy
would have demanded. He was slow and deliberate. He took com-
fort in the thought of a Council. Clement, in his vacillation and
with his position shaken, again sought an alliance with Francis I.
He married off his young niece Catarina de' Medici to the king's
second son, the later Henry II-but the prince preferred Diane
de Poitiers to her. Francis, however, then maintained excellent
relations with the Protestants, especially Landgrave Philip of
From England too the pope was threatened with danger. Al-
though Henry VIII had issued a rescript against Luther, he had
also threatened the pope with British church reform as early as
i525. This controversy was settled and Henry supported Clement
while the pope was besieged in Sant' Angelo. As we know, what
Henry really wanted was a divorce, so that he could marry Anne
Boleyn; but the pope could not do him this favor, since the Queen
of England was the emperor's aunt. Thus a new and dangerous
enemy arose for Clement. Henry's opposition to the pope's secular
power became more and more vehement.


There were intellectual trends in Italy about this time that

showed certain points of agreement with Protestantism. Initially
this movement too was hostile to a secular papacy and strove for
reform; but in time circumstances compelled the papacy itself to
assimilate these trends. This soon utterly changed its character.
The Renaissance papacy with its pagan stamp, its artistic and
literary inclinations, its revival of antiquity and its indifference
toward the observance of sexual morality was followed by the
papacy of the Counter Reformation with its strict orthodoxy, its
officially maintained rectitude. The intolerance of the Inquisition
did not shrink from persecuting heresy and even imposed severe
penalties on the spirit of free inquiry in the sciences.
As early as the time of Leo X an oratory styled The Love of
God is mentioned. It was located near the spot where, according
to tradition, St. Peter had dwelt, and there, in a church, half a
hundred devout clerics foregathered. The most important bore
names that later became well known: Contarini, Sadoleto, Giberti,
Caraffa. Their aim was to reform the Roman Church from within.
When Rome was plundered, Florence captured, Milan exposed
to constant feuding, this Roman company drew other good men
and true to its midst. Their preferred place of assembly was
Venice. Their main interest was theological in nature. They pro-
ceeded from the same doctrine of justification as Luther. Gaspare
Contarini, one of the leaders of the group, maintained the gospels
were no more than the glad tidings that God's only begotten Son
had sought to satisfy the Father's demand for justice in flesh and
The Spaniard Juan de Valdez, secretary to the Viceroy of Na-
Rome 99
ples, spread the doctrine of redemption to the best of his ability.
His writings are lost, but his disciple, the monk Flaminio, in 1540
issued a small book, On the Good Works of Christ, that dealt only
with redemption. Valdez exerted a profound influence on the no-
bility of Naples and on the savants of Italy. Women too eagerly
joined the movement he initiated. 0


Of them Vittoria Colonna is the best known, indeed, perhaps

Italy's most famous woman of the past four hundred years. She
was born in i492 in Castello Marino, a Colonna stronghold that
commanded the approach to Rome. Her father was lord of Pali-
ano, later Prince of Tagliacozzo, and received the title of Grand
Connetable of Naples. Her mother was Agnes da Montefeltro,
daughter of Duke Federigo of Urbino.
King Ferrandino had persuaded Fabrizio Colonna to betrothe
his daughter Vittoria to Ferrante Francesco d'Avalos, who boasted
the title of Marchese of Pescara even as a child. The marriage con-
tract was signed in 1507, the wedding celebrated in 1509. The
bride's dowry was i4,ooo florins.
When the marriage of Bona of Aragon with King Zygmunt I
of Poland was celebrated in Naples in i517, Vittoria was in the
bridal entourage and her grave beauty well suited the solemn
splendor of the procession. She was mounted on a white pacing
horse caparisoned in crimson velvet with borders of gold and
silver. Six equerries in blue and yellow silks strode beside her. She
wore a robe of crimson brocade under a velvet cloak with gold
tassels, a snood of cloth of gold surmounted by a beret of crimson
silk with massive gold jewelry. Her belt too was fashioned of gold.
The book from which we know the doctrines of Valdez is Le cento et dieci diuine
coruiderationi del S. Giovanni Valdesso, Basie, 1550.
ioo Michelangelo
Six ladies of the nobility in light blue damask formed her personal
Later on Michelangelo, in his poems, was to address her as
Column, in a play upon her name, in keeping with current poetic
custom. A sonnet to her by Pietro Bembo begins: "Looming
column that stands firm amid the raging of the storm!" Ariosto
sings her praises in five stanzas dedicated to her in the 37th canto
of his Orlando Furioso. "One alone I choose," he begins, "and she
the one who silences even the wrath of envy. . . . By the power
of sweet sound she has risen to immortality; more than that, let
her but speak or sing of anyone, and he shall rise from tomb to
everlasting light."
She was in touch with all the poets of her time, knew Fran-
cesco Maria Molza and exchanged letters with him. He is known
to be among those who listened to her converse with Michelangelo
on art in Italy in the cloister of San Silvestro and elsewhere. Gale-
azzo di Tarsia had seen Vittoria in Naples. She became his Muse,
whose praises he ever sang, with a fervor that sets him off from
other imitators of Petrarca. Through Giberti, Vittoria came in
touch with Berni and with Pietro Aretino, who wrote a sonnet in
her honor.
Ferrante d'Avalos whom, for the sake of brevity, we may call
Pescara, had been appointed supreme commander of the imperial-
papal troops under Leo. Against him the French were unable to
hold Parma, the Venetians Milan. In 1522, after Leo's death, to-
gether with Prospero Colonna he defeated the French army under
Lautrec. His horrifying pillage of Genoa aroused the disapproval
of the Church, and in vain he implored Adrian VI, when the pope
landed in Genoa, to revoke the reprimand the pillage had earned
him. But then Adrian died and Vittoria privately rejoiced over
the election of Clement VII.
For some three years she had been separated from her hus-
band. On a single occasion, in 1522, he had come home to Naples
for a few days from his campaigns. The dreadful disorder in the
Rome IOI

papal finances precipitated Pescara into debt, and in 1523 Vittoria

had to write to the papal captain general, Federigo Gonzaga, to
remind him of the 4,000 florins owed her husband. Her letters to
Gian Maria Giberti reveal her joy over the election of the pope,
whom she took to be a great statesman; but as we have seen,
Giulio de' Medici's stature as a pope dwindled. He was irresolute
and lacking in character.
The valiant defense of Marseilles-conducted, by the way, by
two Italians, Orsini and Gonzaga-compelled the imperial forces
to retreat. Greatly weakened, Pescara and Bourbon in 1524 met
the Spanish viceroy Lannoy in Piedmont. The king of France
strutted arrogantly and demanded Naples in addition to Milan.
But then came the Battle of Pavia in which the king with the
rest of his army was captured. Chief credit for the victory must
go to Pescara. He had kept up Lannoy's courage, had demanded
the relief of starved Pavia, and had dealt with the soldiers, restless
because they had not received their pay. It was he too who had
conceived the plan of attack and who had fought to the end,
hand-to-hand, though bleeding from three wounds, the while the
Bower of the French nobility littered the battlefield-La Tre-
mouille, la Palice, Saint Pol, de Faix, Bonnivet.
Charles V wrote Pescara letters full of gratitude but did not
stir a finger to reward him. Although Pescara was half Spanish,
Charles did not trust him-he trusted only Spaniards and Ger-
mans, never an Italian. As a result of the hardships he had under-
gone Pescara died in Milan in 1525, in the middle of the war.
When this cruel blow struck her, Vittoria sought refuge in the
convent of San Viterbo. In an epistle of December 7, 1525, the
pope gave his permission for her to be received there, but also
forbade the abbess to exchange Vittoria's widow's weeds for the
nun's habit. After 1530 Vittoria lived in various places-first on
Ischia with the Duchess of Francavilla, then in Orvieto in the
Convent of San Paolo. She wrote poems to relieve her heart's

With Rome plundered, the rupture with Germany a fact, and
England lost to the Catholic Church, a new religious movement
began, into which Vittoria was swept. Religious studies had long
preoccupied her after Pescara's death.
In Viterbo Reginald Pole, Archbishop of Canterbury, became
the center of Vittoria's circle. A grandson of the Duke of Clarence,
whom Richard III had murdered, he was a distant kinsman of
Henry VIII. He was born in 1500 and educated mainly in Padua.
He was at odds with King Henry, whom he was minded to sup-
port neither in the matter of his divorce nor in the separation
from the Roman Church. Banished for high treason, he lived for
the most part in Italy. In the time of Clement VII he gave much
thought to reform, and Paul III appointed him cardinal.
His character like his destiny was out of the ordinary. To get
at him, Henry VIII persecuted his family, having his mother be-
headed because of her son's diplomatic efforts on behalf of the
Catholic cause in England. At the news of his mother's execution
he wrote Vittoria that her letter had been one of the few con-
solations left to him during this access of Pharaonic rage. Having
rediscovered his mother's spirit in Vittoria, he established resi-
dence in Viterbo in 1541, as a legate. His influence on Vittoria
proved to be enduring.
Contarini was among Vittoria's closest friends, like Pole and
also Bernardino Ochino. He was long active as an adherent of
the orthodox Catholic trend, became a Franciscan and subjected
himself to severe penitences, but ultimately embraced the doc-
trine of redemption, decried as heretical. His reputation spread
far and wide. "I opened my heart to him as though to Christ
Himself," wrote Pietro Bembo. "It seemed to me as though I had
never beheld a holier man."
Rome 103

The Church was reformed from within. Paul III appointed

cardinals with no regard other than merit-first Contarini, then
Caraffa, then Sadoleto, Giberti and, as we have seen, the exiled
Reginald Pole, all of them members of that earlier oratory, The
Love of God.
Oddly enough an effort was made to establish a papacy that
would be not only devout but also reasonable. Contarini wrote:
"The law of Christ is the law of liberty and forbids the harsh
servitude which Luther rightly compares to the Babylonian cap-
tivity. All rule is the rule of reason, even the authority of the


On April 5, i536, Charles V held his entry into Rome, which

his army had pillaged nine years before. He paid visits to but two
ladies. One of them was Giovanna Aragona Colonna. The other
was her sister-in-law Vittoria, who had always remained loyal to
the emperor. She hoped he would achieve the victory of cross over
crescent. Her concern was then reserved to religion alone.
While the emperor bargained with Alessandro Farnese (who,
as pope, called himself Paul III) Vittoria bestowed her attentions
on the Capuchin order, detested by Francesco Quinones de Luna,
Cardinal of Santa Croce in Jerusalem, because it had exposed
abuses in the Minorite monasteries, and the cardinal himself was
a Minorite. While in Ferrara for the baptism of the duke's daugh-
ter Eleonora d'Este-whose godmother she was-Vittoria met
Bernardino Ochino and admired his sermons. She was indignant
over the calumnies and distortions to which he was exposed.
In February 1538 Vittoria left Ferrara, having recited some of
her sonnets the day before at a court function. Through Renata di
Francia of Ferrara, she knew the queen of Navarre, Marguerite
104 Michelangelo
d'Angouleme the spirited and witty sister of King Francis. In 1540
she sent the queen, at her request, a hand-written collection of
her sonnets.
Marguerite's opponent, the Connetable of Montmorency, had
come into possession of the volume and protested to King Francis
that Vittoria's sonnets contained much that was in conflict with
Christian faith. Francis only laughed, in part because he knew
the marchesa's devoutness, in part because he was only officially
rather than privately concerned with purity of faith. Queen Mar-
guerite, however, had been suspected of heresy as early as 1532,
and was violently attacked in sermons. She was the mother of
Jeanne d'Albret, whose son was Henry IV.
With Paul III the era of humanism was over. What was now
important to the Church was to restore its authority. For a fleeting
moment it looked as though a reconciliation between the Roman
Church and the Reformation were possible. The two were never
closer than during the discussions at Ratisbon in 154i. The em-
peror desired reconciliation. His enemies were Turkey and France
rather than the Protestants. Landgrave Philip of Hesse stood well
with Austria and the emperor liked him. On the Protestant side
two men of peace turned up, Bucer and Melanchthon. From the
Catholic side came the pliant Gaspare Contarini, leader of the
new trend within the Catholic Church.
It seemed at first that agreement would be reached even on
the points that then seemed most important-original sin, justi-
fication by faith alone, redemption. It was Luther who broke up
every understanding. To him the struggle of the Reformation
against the papacy was the struggle of heaven against hell, and
any reconciliation must be the work of Satan. By way of balance
it was now the reactionary cardinals Caraffa and Marcello in
Rome who objected to the doctrine of justification. The emperor's
enemies, most zealous among the Catholics, raised sharp opposi-
tion to all mediation.
While in Germany monasticism was abolished and the nuns
set free, efforts were made in Italy to introduce stricter rules for
Rome 105
monastic life; indeed, celibacy was instituted even for clerics who
belonged to no order. The Franciscans, Capuchins-all the orders
that had been secularized-introduced a new discipline of aus-
terity and piety. The reform was led by two high ecclesiastics, the
gentle and peaceful Gaetano da Thiene and the hot-tempered,
violent Giovanni Caraffa. They founded the new Theatine order
for the express purpose of improving the priestly estate. Caraffa,
later to become Pope Paul IV, developed a surging eloquence as
a preacher.


Yet it was from Spain rather than Italy that enthusiasm for
old-time orthodoxy and moral reorientation received their crucial
Don Ifiigo Lopez de Recaldo, youngest son of the house of
Loyola, a well-lmown Spanish family, had had the misfortune of
being wounded in both legs during the defense of Pamplona
against the French in 1521. Although he had unflinchingly had
his legs set twice anew, they healed badly and his health was
never restored.
He lmew and loved the romances of chivalry, especially
Amadis, and during his illness he also read the histories of several
saints as well as of Jesus. In the workings of his mind, he was the
precise Catholic counterpart to Luther. His approach was quite
as naive as that of the reformer. Just as to the former Augustinian
his cause was that of heaven, while the papal cause represented
hell, so the veteran officer Loyola envisioned two camps, that of
Christ and that of Satan, one in Jerusalem, the other in Babylon.
For Loyola as for Luther one camp was wholly good, the other
wholly evil. To the Spaniard Christ was a king determined to
subject the land of the infidels.
1o6 Michelangelo
Luther had fled to the lofty Wartburg. Loyola left his ancestral
home and retired to Montserrat. In contrast to Luther, he did not
delve into the Bible at all. Dogma left him unimpressed. He lived
a purely inward life and soon felt the influence of the good spirit
that succors and rejoices the soul, but also that of the evil spirit
that weakens and terrifies it.
Luther clung only to God's Scripture. True, he had visions,
such as when the devil tempted him, but he held fast to the words
of the Bible. Loyola was wrapped up in apparitions. He halted on
the stairway to San Domenico in Manresa and cried aloud with
joy, because the mystery of the Trinity had become manifest to
him at that moment. On another occasion he saw Christ and the
Virgin Mary before him. Both, the Reformation and the Counter
Reformation, are based on mental states that will always interest
the psychologist.
Loyola's ecclesiastic superiors demanded that he study theol-
ogy. He did so, for the first four years at the universities of his
own country, Alcala and Salamanca, completing his theological
training at the University of Paris.
His military background had left deep traces on his mind, and
he resolved to call himself and the companions who had joined
him "the Company of Jesus," just as in those days a company of
soldiers was named after its leader. As a former officer, Loyola
wanted to wage war on Satan.
In Rome these early Jesuits were originally subject to strong
suspicion. They were looked on as though they were heretics.
Soon, however, they gave convincing evidence of their absolute
orthodoxy. They were zealous preachers and teachers. Above all,
they concerned themselves with nursing the sick, and here they
undeniably did good. No opposition was to be anticipated of
them, for Loyola had declared obedience to be the greatest virtue.
The only right he granted his adherents was that of electing their
own general, for life.
At the Council of Trent ( i545-1563) Contarini's approach was
presented by the highest representative of the Augustinian order,

Rome 107
Scripando, though with the express reservation that the views up-
held were not those of Luther. With cunning sophistry it was
explained that Contarini assumed a dual justification-an inward
one, through which man grew from a child of sin into a child of
God; and an external salvation through Christ's grace. But even
with such distorting alterations this principle of Protestant theol-
ogy did not prevail. Caraffa resisted it, and with him the Jesuits
mobilized for opposition.


The Council of Trent agreed that salvation was by Christ's

grace, but only because this brought about an inner rebirth and
thereby good works, which were what really mattered. But since
the Protestants clung to their doctrines and doubts of the exist-
ence of Purgatory were voiced even in Italy, the pope one day
asked Caraffa if he knew of a remedy for the evil. Caraffa replied:
a thoroughgoing inquisition.
In Spain a court of inquisition had already been instituted. The
pope was now persuaded to create a supreme Inquisition on the
Spanish model. Caraffa leased a house, where he had a prison
with torture instruments established. He pushed through a policy
that no time must be wasted in matters of faith, that the utmost
severity must be employed at once, and that there could be no
distinction of person. No matter how exalted the status of prince
or prelate, no tolerance must be shown him. Calvinists and Lu-
therans were to be equally condemned.
Many were arrested; others succeeded in making good their
escape. Bernardino Ochino handed over the seal of his order to
another and fled to Geneva, thence to Zwingli in Zurich; but soon
he was at odds with the orthodox Protestants as well. Subse-
quently he had to wander restlessly from country to country for
108 Michelangelo
no less than twenty-two years, to die of the plague at the age of
seventy-seven, in a small town in Moravia.
Like Ochino, a few other eminent men, such as Vermigli and
Curione, managed to save their lives by leaving Italy. For the rest,
mutual partisan hatred militated for the Inquisition. Revenge on
an enemy was best taken by denouncing him as a heretic.
In time an index of prohibited books came to be established.
A beginning with this prohibition had been made in Louvain and
Paris. In Italy one of those devoted to the house of Caraffa had
the first Index printed, covering seventy titles. The task was
tackled with fervent zeal. Thousands upon thousands of copies of
Flaminio's book On the Good Works of Christ were burned.
Good use was now made of the Jesuits, whose numbers had
steadily risen. Loyola divided them into three classes. At the top
were the professors, small in number and permitted to live only
on alms. Members of the two lower classes had the right to earn
their bread. In complete subjection, disavowing all independent
judgment, the Jesuit was to surrender to his superior, to be like a
staff in his hand, bereft of volition like a corpse.
Personally Paul III (Alessandro Farnese) was as little a saint
as any of the popes of the high Renaissance. Born in 1468, he had
received his entire education in the age of humanism. He had
studied in Rome under Pomponius Laetus, in Florence in Loren-
zo's gardens. He acknowledged an illegitimate son and an illegiti-
mate daughter. He had become cardinal at a youthful age and had
begun construction of the beautiful Palazzo Farnese. Mter forty
years as a cardinal, he was elected pope in October 1534, in his
sixty-seventh year. His demeanor was marked by "splendor and
grandeur," as it was then put. Rarely before had a pope been so
universally popular at the outset.
Not long after his ascension, he had entered into bonds of
kinsmanship with the emperor. In Oudenaarde in Belgium there
still stands a pretty little house by the canal, where Charles V as
a youth lived in idyllic serenity with the beautiful Johanna von
der Gheynst, who bore him his daughter Margaret, renowned in
Rome io9
history as Margaret of Parma-the same one who, as an older
woman, governed the Netherlands with shrewdness and states-
manship, to retire only with the advent of the Duke of Alba.
Margaret's first marriage, in i536, was to Alessandro de'
Medici, who cleared his way to the overlordship of Florence by
poisoning his cousin Ippolito de' Medici, but was himself mur-
dered on January 5, i537, by his cousin Lorenzino. Margaret
married again the following year, Ottavio Farnese, a grandson
of the pope.
Everywhere in Italy there were malcontents, men who had
left Milan, Naples, Florence, Genoa, Siena. His ties to the em-
peror did not keep the pope from assuming the role of their pro-
tector. Only young Duke Cosimo I of Florence, a son of Giovanni
delle Bande N ere, remained hostile to the pope and loyal to the
In 1545, however, pope and emperor were on a friendly foot-
ing. Margaret expected a child, and the future grandfather and
great-grandfather were now to have a descendant in common.
Cardinal Alessandro Farnese sought out the emperor at Worms
and put him in good humor. Pope and emperor joined forces with
the object of destroying the Schmalkaldic League. It looked as
though the Protestant cause were lost, as though the whole North
were bound to become Catholic again.
At this moment the pope withdrew his troops from the im-
perial army and moved the Council of Trent-ostensibly because
of a plague that raged there-to Bologna, which was much closer
to Rome. Oddly enough, the pope felt himself an ally of the Prot-
estants, hoped for and believed in a defeat of the emperor.
But the luck of Charles V ruined all the papal calculations.
The emperor saw through the pope and was much incensed over
his behavior.
At the same time good fortune deserted Paul III. Reportedly,
on the very day when he had enumerated how luck had served
him all his life, news reached him that his son, Piero Luigi Far-
nese, had been murdered in Piacenza. Since his right to Piacenza
iw Michelangelo
was contested, he resolved to restore the city to Church sover-
eignty. For the first time he acted against the interests of his clan;
but thereupon his own grandson rose against him. When he or-
dered Camillo Orsini to hold Parma against all attacks, Ottavio
Farnese tried to capture the city by a ruse.
Two years after the murder of his son, on November 10, 1549,
Paul III died.


Julius III (Cardinal del Monte, elected in 1550) had been cham-
berlain to Julius II, hence chose the same name. He was on good
terms with the emperor and Duke Cosimo, but for the rest was
concerned only with a life of enjoyment at his villa, which lay out-
side the Porta del Popolo. There he often distilled the experience
of his life into the form of proverbs that brought a blush to many
of his listeners.
After his death the respectable party within the Church
effected the election of Marcello Cervino, who ascended the papal
throne in 1555 as Marcellus II. He was beyond reproach, but dis-
appointed the hopes that had been put in him, for he died after
only twenty-two days.
Cardinal Giovanni Caraffa, austere and brusque, often men-
tioned above, ascended the throne as Paul IV in May 1555 In his
very first bull he announced his intention of reforming the Cath-
olic Church by reintroducing the ancient faith and discipline.
Born in 1476, however, he had lived most of his life before the
time of Spanish dominance and therefore resented it deeply. He
was convinced that Charles V had treated the Protestants so
gently only from jealousy of the pope. He soon became involved
in a long series of disputes with the emperor and concluded an
alliance with France against him.
Rome 111

He was fond of the heavy, flavorsome wine from Mount Ve-

suvius, and, while he drank it, of cursing the Spanish, "those
descendants of Jews and Marranos." His reformist aims quickly
gave way to war plans. He, who had passionately fought every
manifestation of nepotism, now made his bloodthirsty nephew
Carlo Caraffa a cardinal, indeed, distributed the Colonna castles
among his nephews.
The Duke of Alba, as captain general of the emperor, was ad-
vancing from Naples toward Rome. The Romans had already
demonstrated before that they were unequal to the defense of
their city. Yet Alba, a good Catholic, waged war against the pope
but reluctantly. There were skirmishes at Tivoli and Ostia, while
Paul implored all the world for help, even the German Protestants,
indeed, even Sultan Suleiman II, whom he begged to desist from
his Hungarian campaign to fall upon the two Sicilies with all his
host. No help was forthcoming; but in 1557 the Spanish won at
St. Quentin. Paul had to sue for peace. The Spanish general re-
turned everything that belonged to the Church. Indeed, Alba, the
victor, fell to his knees before the pope and kissed his foot.
The pope cooled toward his nephews, introduced harsh disci-
pline everywhere, prohibited all begging for alms, fostered the
Inquisition by all means at his command and died in August 1559.
While Paul IV was an aristocratic Neapolitan from a renowned
family of the nobility still flourishing today, his successor, Gio-
vanni Angelo Medici, who ascended the papal throne as Pius IV,
despite his name came from a poor family, his father having been
a tax farmer from Milan. He became a doctor and jurist, bought
himself an office in Rome, rose in the favor of Paul III because his
brother, a bold adventurer, had married a lady from the Orsini
clan. He became a cardinal and showed himself skillful and good-
natured in administrative matters. Since Paul IV disliked him, he
was almost constantly away from Rome, practiced much charity
and erected useful structures in the resorts near Pisa and Milan.
In contrast to Caraffa, he was no zealot but worldly and lively.
His gay temperament disposed him against the Inquisition, but he
112 Michelangelo
did not dare set it limits. On the other hand, circumstances com-
pelled him to have the nephews of the late pope hanged. One of
them, the Duke of Palliano, had killed his wife from jealousy.
Cardinal Carlo Caraffa, Count Aliffe and Leonardo da Cadine had
committed robbery, murder, forgery and fraud.
He was himself far too conscientious to lift a finger for his
family. Only one of his nephews ever obtained an office, which he
discharged to general satisfaction. This was Carlo Borromeo, who
ruled irreproachably and stout-heartedly as his uncle's represen-
By January i562 the Council of Trent had assembled in num-
bers sufficiently large to resume negotiations on reformation. Yet
from the outset the legates of the nations sharply opposed the
pope. Nevertheless Cardinal Morone was sent to Emperor Ferdi-
nand at Innsbruck to reach an understanding, and an agreement
was made. Furthermore, Philip II of Spain and the Cardinal de
Guise proved themselves faithful Catholics on the French side.
The Council, initially promoted with great zeal, then shunned and
twice dissolved, adjourned a third time in December i563 in
general amity.
Early Youth in Florence

hIE BUONARROTI-SIMONI were an ancient Florentine fam-

ily, once well-to-do, whose fortunes had declined. Father Lodovico
was a sturdy, upright man without much energy. His sole prop-
erty was a farmstead at Settignano, some three miles northeast of
Florence, which produced little revenue. Hence he was glad to
take on small offices that did bring in something; and for the winter
of 1474-75 he had himself appointed podesta, resident magistrate,
in the small town of Caprese, where his second son, Michelangelo
Buonarroti, was born on March 6, 1475.
The child born in Caprese got as his wetnurse a young woman
from Settignano, whose father and husband were stone-masons.

114 Michelangelo
The area near the slope on which Fiesole, in the same district, is
built was known for its fine quarry, whence came the marble, from
which many monuments in Florence were fashioned. In his ma-
turity Michelangelo used to say jestingly that he had drunk in his
propensity for sculpture at his wet-nurse's breast.
The child remained with her for some time, for within a few
weeks of his birth the family moved back into the house it oc-
cupied in Florence, a house rented by Lodovico from his brother-
in-law, a dyer. It lay in the narrow, crooked street called Via de'
Michelangelo's mother, Monna Francesca, daughter of Neri di
Miniato del Sera and Bonda Rucellai, was only twenty when she
bore him, ten years younger than her husband. She died in 1481,
when her son was but six years old. Much in Michelangelo's char-
acter is more readily understood in the light of the knowledge that
he had to do without the softening influence of a mother.
Four years after the death of his wife, Lodovico married again.
We know nothing of the relationship between the boy and his
stepmother. He was sent to school with a teacher named Fran-
cesco da Urbino. There he seems to have learned little more than
reading, writing and arithmetic.
We know from Donato Giannotti's dialogue of about 1546, De'
giorni che Dante consumo (Discourse on the Days When Dante
Visited Hell and Purgatory), 0 that Michelangelo later complained
of his ignorance of Latin. He lacked the versatile energy that en-
abled Leonardo da Vinci to make up for such a lack in maturer
years. We are aware too that the boy's inclination did not run to
book learning but toward art. So irresistible was this urge that he
spent his leisure time roaming the workshops of painters, observ-
ing the works of art within the churches of Florence, and, espe-
cia~y, drawing on walls and in notebooks.
He made a close and enduring friend of a boy six years his sen-
ior, Francesco Granacci, who had been a student of Lorenzo di
0 The best edition of this work is edited by Deoclecio Redig de Campos, Flor-

ence, 1939.
Early Youth in Florence 115
Credi, then had learned drawing with Verrocchio, and finally had
been taken into the studio of Domenico Ghirlandajo. Granacci
lent his friend drawings and encouraged him to become an artist.
His own artistic endowments were but mediocre, but he was a
very handsome boy and later on a very handsome young man.
When Filippino Lippi was commissioned to paint a picture in the
church of Santa Maria del Carmine, in which St. Peter awakens
the king's son, he took Granacci as a model for the son.
Even though Michelangelo's young friend was unable to pro-
duce masterpieces, he did have ability as a painter and was, more-
over, a versatile dilettante. Among other things, he knew how to
organize masquerades and processions. He also knew how to com-
pose carnival songs ( canti carnascialeschi)-to texts written by
Lorenzo de' Medici.
Together with Aristotile da San Gallo he erected a triumphal
arch opposite the portal of the church La Badia in Florence, on
the occasion of the visit of Leo X, even providing simulated relief
decorations in chiaroscuro, i.e. monochrome painting, executed
in light and dark shades of gray, "with a most beautiful display of
imagination," as we are told. Later Granacci was among those
who studied from Michelangelo's cartoons and helped him from
the beginning in the Sistine Chapel. When his friend Michelan-
gelo fled to Venice, Granacci kept his stored property from con-


When young Michelangelo told his father of his desire to be-

come an artist, both the father and the father's brother were
greatly upset. They scolded him and beat him within an inch of
his life in their efforts to dissuade him. They looked upon art as a
mere craft far below their dignity and estate. Actually Father
116 Michelangelo
Buonarroti was just an ordinary citizen of Florence, though he,
and later on his great son, took great pride in a supposed relation-
ship to the family of the Marchese of Canossa, resting on an old
but erroneous tradition.
Since even as a boy Michelangelo was more than his father's
match in obstinacy, Lodovico saw himself compelled to give way
and in April 1488 a contract was concluded between him and the
brothers Domenico and David Ghirlandajo under which Michel-
angelo, aged thirteen, was apprenticed to the brothers. The term
of apprenticeship was set at three years. For the first year the boy
was to receive six gold florins in wages, for the next two eight
each, a total of twenty-two. In return he pledged to be willing,
obedient and loyal to his masters. As early as April 16, as shown
in a receipt, Lodovico obtained an advance of two gold florins
on his son's wages.
As a man Michelangelo time and again insisted he was a sculp-
tor by profession rather than a painter and bemoaned that he had
not originally been apprenticed to a sculptor. Posterity, nonethe-
less, acknowledges his greatness as a painter as much-perhaps
even more-than as a sculptor. Nor can there be any reasonable
doubt that Michelangelo enjoyed a great advantage for having
even as a boy been apprenticed to the most popular fresco painters
in Florence, learning the technique of fresco buono in his youth-
ful years. In the choir of Santa Maria Novella he had daily oppor-
tunity to watch a master such as Domenico at work among his
assistants and pupils.
It would seem that some remarks which Domenico's son Ri-
dolfo dropped many years later on the subject of what the epoch-
making artist owed his father's instruction greatly incensed the
genius, increasingly irritable with age, who knew his abilities to
be far ahead of his teacher's. We note further that Vasari's inno-
cent passage about Michelangelo having been apprenticed to
Ghirlandajo caused the aging artist to dictate ungracious words
to his disciple Ascanio Condivi, to the effect that Ghirlandajo's
instruction had not meant the least profit for the boy (non avendo
Early Youth in Florence 117
egli portogli aiuto alcuno); rather had master Ghirlandajo, no
sooner had he seen evidence of his apprentice's talent, entertained
only envy of him.
That there is not a shadow of resemblance between the artistry
of Ghirlandajo and that of Michelangelo is so obvious as to go
without saying. But that was scarcely a reason to deprecate this
honorable and gracious artist. Ghirlandajo is without a peer in
his portrayals of the everyday life then led by the citizenry of
Florence. He may have kept his feet on the ground, may never
have read Plato, but he worshiped beauty all the same, had
worked in Rome and knew the grandeur of antiquity. And the
chances are he was precisely the kind of artist from whom a
talented pupil could learn all that is to be learned.
The anecdotes Condivi and Vasari relate to deprecate Ghir-
landajo are incredibly trivial. One day the disciple is supposed to
have darkened with smoke a drawing one of the boys had copied
from a portrait by the master, causing Domenico to confuse the
two, which made him ridiculous in the eyes of Michelangelo and
the other youths. On another occasion one of the pupils finished
a pen-and-ink drawing from a design by Ghirlandajo. Michel-
angelo took a broader nib and strengthened the outlines of a fe-
male figure, making it come alive. The story has the ring of truth
-the more since Vasari insisted he had the drawing in his posses-
sion-but surely it did not in the least discredit Ghirlandajo.
There is the story, finally, that when Domenico was absent from
the work in the choir of Santa Maria Novella one day Michelan-
gelo made a drawing of the scaffolding with all the young people
and the tools on it-an achievement in perspective that was surely
within the powers of the young genius. What is far less likely is
that this drawing should have convinced Ghirlandajo of Michel-
angelo's superiority over himself, filling him with envy of his
We know that Michelangelo did his first piece of work that was,
relatively speaking, his own while he was still in Ghirlandajo's
service. The master owned an engraving by Martin Schongauer
u8 Michelangelo
of Colmar, who was well-known and highly esteemed in Italy.
Granacci showed it to Michelangelo. It represented St. Anthony
borne aloft by no less than nine devils, who are composites of
many kinds of beasts, with horns, beaks, claws and wings, all of
them tugging and tearing at the saint, whose steadfast serenity
contrasts sharply with their turmoil.
" The boy set about reproducing the engraving in tempera on
wood. The picture is lost, but posterity can scarcely be assumed
to be the poorer for it-even though we are told that in order to
give greater verisimilitude to the piscine demons the inspired
neophyte had gone to the marketplace of Florence to study the
fish that were hawked there. That this beginner's effort should
have aroused Ghirlandajo's envy sounds altogether unlikely. Yet
the aged Michelangelo let the story stand, just as he charged that
the jealous Ghirlandajo would not show him his sketchbook with
studies of all manner of landscapes, buildings and draperies,
which the other apprentices were permitted to use as models.


We may well conclude that Domenico saw in this lean young

fellow with the bushy black hair, gangling body and piercing eyes
a student it was no particular pleasure to have about. Justified as
the boy's self-assurance may have been, he was tactless in mani-
festing it. He was all too prone to manifest his superiority over the
other apprentices in terms of scorn, nor does he seem to have
been in awe of his teacher or held courtesy to be in order. Small
wonder that when a bid arrived, at just the right moment, to
assign some students to the school for young sculptors Lorenzo
de' Medici was establishing in his gardens near San Marco, Ghir-
landajo was not slow to propose Michelangelo, along with Fran-
cesco Granacci and Giuliano Bugiardini.
Early Youth in Florence 119
Much of the great art collection begun by Cosimo and ex-
panded in many directions by Lorenzo was housed in the Palazzo
Medici and the Villa Careggi; but many of the sculptures stood
in the gardens of San Marco, repeatedly mentioned before, and in
the mansion it sheltered, which Lorenzo had acquired ten years
before as a dower for Madonna Clarice, but which had been re-
modeled as a museum after her death.
Now, to Lorenzo's sorrow, the great sculptors had passed
away-Donatello as early as 1468, Verrocchio in 1488. Lorenzo
had turned his affections to Donatello's disciple Bertoldo di Gio-
vanni, who had helped his master with the bronze pulpits of San
Lorenzo. Like most of the fifteenth-century artists of Florence,
Bertoldo was a graduate of the goldsmith's craft. He liked to work
in bronze and favored small pieces. His medals and plaquettes,
bronze reliefs and statuettes were in great demand. Yet he must
have been skilled in marble as well, since Michelangelo graduated
from his school with a work such as the Battle of the Centaurs.
Lorenzo was very fond of bronze copies in reduced size after
ancient statuary and had kept Bertoldo, whom he now put in
charge of his sculptors' school, busy with such work. He also had
Bertoldo execute themes merely suggested in the works of art
preserved from antiquity.
True, Bertoldo was an old man in his seventies, who, according
to Vasari, could no longer carry out work himself, though he was
an excellent technician ( molto pratico), well qualified to instruct
others. The school of art that was now established was quite in
keeping with the humanist ideal of Plato's Academy.
In Condivi's narrative of Michelangelo's development, which
the artist inspired or even dictated, Bertoldo is not even men-
tioned. It says merely that the boy roamed about and drew as he
pleased. Florence alone was his academy. That he was one day
escorted to the sculpture collection is represented as pure chance.
The manner in which the boy ultimately made the personal
acquaintance of Lorenzo is related as follows: In a shed in the
garden he had found the head of a grinning, bearded old satyr,
i20 Michelangelo
much damaged about the mouth, which he very much wanted to
copy in marble. This he managed to do in only a few days, for the
head fascinated him-later on he used heads of satyrs in his orna-
mentation. Since the mouth gaped open in laughter, all the teeth
were visible. Lorenzo, who happened to be in the garden, halted
before the boy's work and called his attention to the fact that old
men seldom had all their teeth. The young man at once removed
a tooth and drilled a hole into the upper jaw, where the root
would have been, and the next day Lorenzo noted his eagerness
and undeniable talent with some surprise. He dispatched the boy
to old Buonarroti with a message that II Magnifico desired to
speak with father.
Lodovico was reluctant at first, but finally went to the Palazzo,
where he was completely won over by the great man's charm.
Lorenzo actually asked what he might do for Michelangelo's
father. Lodovico specified a post with the Florence customs at a
monthly salary of eight florins. The request was granted with a
bantering reference to its modesty.
Henceforth Michelangelo became a member of Lorenzo's
household. He had his own room, allowance and maintenance,
and, to top it off, a purple cloak as a sign of special favor.


It is almost impossible to overestimate the good fortune that

put this budding genius, at the most receptive age, under the in-
fluence of Lorenzo and Poliziano. Indeed, perhaps genius can
know no greater boon than to encounter genius of different kind,
in whose care it may flourish and mature. Lorenzo, with all his
human weaknesses and his ruthlessness in affairs of state, was one
of the elect to whom it is given to signify and even name an en-
tire epoch. The Italian Renaissance and the house of Medici are
Early Youth in Florence 121

for all time inextricably interlinked. By the grace of Lorenzo

young Michelangelo, during the great juncture from his fifteenth
to his eighteenth year, made many invaluable art treasures his
own intellectual property.
A Venetian ambassador once wrote of Lorenzo: "Before his
lips begin to move, his eyes already speak." It was under the im-
press of this epitome of Florentine culture that the boy embraced
the city's essence-the fusion of power and elegance-power as
manifested in the palazzi built of cyclopean, rustic stone, with
their delicate yet strong arches and gothic windows; elegance as
shown in the campanile or in Ghirlandajo's frescoes; power and
elegance as in the marvelous dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, the
shadow of which-in a saying of Leone Battista Alberti-covered
all of Tuscany.
Nor was Michelangelo spared a taste of the political mission
of the Medici. Machiavelli makes Lorenzo's father, in his struggle
against the great Lords, say these words: "Ye rob your neighbor
of his property, ye bargain away justice, ye suppress the peace-
loving, ye succor the arrogant. In all Italy I do not believe so
many examples of violence and avarice are to be found as in this
city. Did your country give you life but that you might take its
life? Did it lend you victory that you but destroy it? Did it honor
you but that you drag it in the dust?"
The mystery of the magic that emanated from Lorenzo lay in
his blending of the civic spirit with an air of sublime sovereignty.
Michelangelo's childhood-in a home where art was held in con-
tempt-had been dismal. Happiness rarely attended his maturity
-he was a recluse, prisoned in his studio, forever quarreling with
stone-masons; or a lonely figure, high on a scaffold, pouring all
his energy into frescoes on a scale hitherto unknown. Yet it was
this brief apprenticeship under the roof of Florence's reigning
spirit that made of him the incomparable imager, that kindled
the spark of poetry in his soul.
Poliziano, haunted and importuned by one and all, smiled on
the young man and opened up to him the spiritual heritage of
122 Michelangelo
humanism, with which he soon felt at home. If Lorenzo had done
nothing else for the art life of Italy but to welcome at his table
this difficult lad, whose promise was by no means apparent at
first sight, it would be credit enough; and when every word
Angelo Poliziano wrote has passed into oblivion, people will re-
member him as the man who so steeped Michelangelo in the spirit
and style of antiquity that the artist, barely grown-up, was able
to produce the Battle of the Centaurs in relief.
It was Bertoldo, finally, who inculcated deep respect of ancient
sculpture into the youth and who, in a rather different way than
the marble cutters in the garden, taught him how to wield chisel
and file, hammer and drill. It was to Bertoldo too, famous for his
mastery in bronze, that Michelangelo most likely owed his ability
to execute the bronze statue of Julius II in Bologna without any
preliminary studies.
At the school of San Marco drawing was zealously pursued,
both as a skill for itself and as a basis for all sound artistic training.
Later on, when the mannerist age took hold, interest in pure con-
tour began to lag and drawings were done in soft red chalk, but
in Michelangelo's time the outline drawing was still regarded
the foundation-stone and main-spring of the artist's skill; and he,
as a youth, used only pen and ink. He no longer drew from pat-
terns and designs, as he had done when he studied with Ghir-
landajo, but after ancient sculpture. More and more his whole
mind grew oriented toward the three-dimensional.
Bertoldo instructed his students in modeling as well as draw-
ing; and though Michelangelo later looked askance at clay, his
treatment of his early madonna reliefs shows that he passed
through a course in clay modeling. We learn, moreover, that on
one occasion, when he happened to catch sight of a group of clay
figures, which Torrigiano had made, 0 Michelangelo himself was
inspired to work in clay; but this brought him no luck.
Vasari says: "When Michelangelo and Cranacci came to the 'gardens,' they
found that Torrigiano was modeling clay figures as Bertoldo had ordered him
to do. Michelangelo immediately did some in competition." (These copies in clay
were probably made from antique torsos.)
Early Youth in Florence 123

Pietro Torrigiano, a senior student at the school, was a com-

petent decorator but an incurable brawler, and he claims a Her-
ostratic fame in Michelangelo's life. One day the students were
drawing from Masaccio's frescoes in the chapel of the church of
Santa Maria del Carmine. As was his ill-mannered wont, Michel-
angelo vented his criticisms of his fellows' work without restraint,
until Torrigiano smashed his nose with a powerful blow of the, disfiguring Michelangelo for life.
If Michelangelo, even in his youth, was affiicted with a meas-
ure of melancholy, it is Torrigiano who must take a large part of
the blame; for Michelangelo was keenly sensitive of his own
ugliness-or what he thought was his ugliness, heightened by
Torrigiano. To a youth who was predestined to worship and
create beauty, this must have been doubly hurtful.
Torrigiano had to leave the school and Florence on account
of this assault; but as long as twenty years later he was still boast-
ing of his deed to Benvenuto Cellini, who was a passionate ad-
mirer of Michelangelo and grew so resentful that he broke off all
contact with Torrigiano.

It is impossible, of course, to isolate and enumerate the many
creative influences that were brought to bear on the young genius
in Florence. Donatello has already been mentioned, nor can there
be any doubt of the strong influence that emanated from him.
His extrovert nature was very different from Michelangelo's. De-
voted to his disciples and to the study of reality, he was a power-
ful and serious-minded portrayer of teeming life, who did not
shrink from the ugly. Michelangelo, on the other hand, destined
by his nature for inwardness and solitude, could strive only for
i24 Michelangelo
Next to Donatello, the influence of Andrea del Verrocchio
must be mentioned as perhaps no less important. When Michel-
angelo halted before Donatello's St. George in one of the marble
niches of Or San Michele, he was doubtless touched as deeply as
before Verrocchio's Incredulity of St. Thomas in one of the very
next niches. He was bound to admire the skill with which Ver-
rocchio found room for two figures in a tabernacle meant for
only one. He must have taken pleasure in the ingenious arrange-
ment that made Christ the main figure by placing Him on a dais,
as in the interplay between the Master's eloquent hands and
those of the doubting disciple who is now convinced. Verrocchio's
David certainly did not serve Michelangelo as a model; but with
equal certainty Michelangelo could not have refused that statue
his admiration.
Again, Michelangelo surely must have stood delighted before
the beautiful simplicity of Cosimo's sarcophagus in the sacristy
of San Lorenzo-that hall he himself was to make immortal. Be-
yond question he also felt deep admiration for Verrocchio's
masterpiece, the equestrian statue of Colleoni in Venice. When
Michelangelo fled to that city in 1494, the monument had not yet
been installed-this was done only a year later. 0 It sounds im-
probable that he did not visit the Venice workshop of the great
Florentine, who had died six years before; but it does appear as
though financial straits limited Michelangelo's sojourn to a few
days; nor is there any known testimony that Venice at first sight
impressed the young artist at all, strange as it sounds.
The influence of Jacopo della Quercia is not discernible until
Michelangelo's sojourn in Bologna. On the other hand, he began
at an early age to delve into the structure of the human body by
means of anatomical studies. His preoccupation with antiquity
as well as the sight of Verrocchio's works showed him how neces-
sary was such knowledge. The science of anatomy did not yet
exist in Michelangelo's youth. Andreas Vesalius was not born until
1514. But throughout Italy surgeons were studying anatomy in
0 The Colleoni monument was unveiled on March 2, 1496.
Early Youth in Florence 125

an as yet superficial way; and even before Michelangelo distin-

guished artists like Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Signorelli, Verrocchio
and, above all, Leonardo da Vinci had busily practiced dissection.
(Three manuscripts with anatomical studies by Leonardo are
today in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.)
The Prior of Santo Spirito, to which a hospital was attached,
had given Michelangelo permission to pursue the study of anat-
omy in its mortuary. In return the young artist, probably in 1496,
had presented him with a wooden crucifix, now lost, for the high
altar of the church.
/ It is true that Michelangelo all his life, from sheer thirst of
knowledge, occupied himself with dissection; but it is equally
certain that his style of art, intent upon representing the very
essence of life with the utmost passion, ultimately derived its
knowledge of the movements of the human body from observation
of the living rather than the dead. To him as to the other great
artists, anatomy was but an indispensable element of training,
a prerequisite for assurance.

Great figures are traditionally seen at their apogee, as the
commanding personalities they were at the very height of their
unique powers. Posterity will always see Michelangelo as the
master of the Sistine and Medici Chapels, superhuman yet pro-
foundly human in spirit, instinctively given to ignoring all in-
dividuality other than his own, hence averse to portraiture in
paint or stone, his art self-revelation in the last and deepest sense.
But seeing Michelangelo in such perspective, one tends to
leap ahead of the years and skip his youth. In his younger years
he was variable and versatile, without on that account denying
his essential nature. He was necessarily dependent on the tasks
i26 Michelangelo
set him, the commissions entrusted to him. Chance seems largely
to have governed the sequence of themes with which he dealt,
and his ability to alternate styles and media bespeaks a highly
elastic nature. His work shows a colorful variety. It embraces
figures from classical mythology-Centaurs, Bacchus, Cupid;
characters from the New Testament like the Madonna and Child
with St. John, and the youthful St. John himself; themes from the
history of Florence like the Battle of Cascina; characters from the
Old Testament like David and Moses; groups in relief; free-
standing statuary, alone or in combination; painting and sculp-
ture; sculpture treated as painting, and painting treated three-
Since some of his themes proved to be less grateful than
others and some of his works appear to be experimental in char-
acter, we can scarcely be surprised that they do not all satisfy us
equally. Yet such a commission as the French cardinal Groslaye
de Villiers gave him elicited a display of talent we might other-
wise never have known. This sacred subject, a Pieta, was partic-
ularly popular in France in the declining years of the fifteenth
century, and many examples found their way even into Italian
churches. Michelangelo's group, however, put all its predecessors
in the shade, and the fine nuances of sentiment manifested in it
scarcely recur anywhere else in Michelangelo's work.


But the commissions of crucial significance did not come un-

til much later during his youthful years. For the boy's immediate
future it was much more important that he looked up to the an-
cient statuary on his solitary walks in the garden of San Marco,
where the Tree of Knowledge spread its branches, that he felt
the urge himself to hew human figures from the marble. It must
Early Youth in Florence 127

be borne in mind that he did not view the ancients as did the
French later on or other peoples to the North. To him the art of
antiquity was not that of foreigners but of his own kind. The
ancient Romans who had created or copied these masterpieces
were his forbears.
In the nineteenth century surprise was expressed that the
great men of the Renaissance were so enraptured by the perfec-
tion of ancient art in its last phase that they had no feeling for
Greek sculpture at its best, let alone archaic art. Carl Justi ob-
served perceptively that the Italians themselves had already
passed through the painful struggle for perfection in the early
Renaissance and thus felt little sympathy for an art that still
spoke in faltering accents-even though to us it possesses the ap-
pealing freshness of the primitive. They delighted precisely in
an art that was in complete command of its material and was able
to achieve full realization. Statues like the Pasquino and the Bel-
vedere Torso sounded a music that to Michelangelo's ears was a
foreboding of his own ideas. We may today have certain reserva-
tions about the Laocoon, even though this work, as Burckhardt
has said, encompasses the epitome of creative wisdom. When the
group was unearthed in i506, it was the object of Michelangelo's
profound veneration, as of that of all his contemporaries.
As a boy the great artist had made a caricature of the ideal of
beauty his point of departure-Schongauer's demons disporting
themselves, the satyr mask as a foil for the serene godheads. By
way of contrast his Last Judgment provides an illustration to
Dante's Inferno without any display of the demonic world. His
disposition tended to the heroic, and in contrast to his great rival
Leonardo, who was fascinated by caricature, Michelangelo was
early repelled by grotesquerie. Although he made his bow with
a Battle of the Centaurs, he never fashioned a sphinx, a Pan, or
any other supernatural or unnatural being in whom human and
animal forms are blended. The sole exceptions are some early
drawings and sculpture, the prone Centaur in the foreground of
the Battle and the little satyr behind his Bacchus, likewise done
128 Michelangelo
in his youth-the former dates back to about i492, the latter to
i497. Michelangelo soon discovered that he could say all he
wanted to say by means of the human body-unchanged and
unadorned, without halo or wings, claws or cloven hoof. It alone
was his theme and his work, his means and his end.


The work of a boy of seventeen, the Battle of the Centaurs re-

mains technically one of the most amazing works in the history of
art. The youth here shows himself already possessed of complete
mastery in the representation of bodies in action, fully able,
moreover, to interweave them at a moment of dramatic crisis,
while still keeping the composition firmly in hand. Never again
did Michelangelo essay the task of integrating more than twenty
figures in a single relief. When he again saw this early work in
his old age, he wondered himself that he had been able to scale
such heights so soon.
The theme, to which Poliziano had called his attention, ap-
pealed to the youthful Michelangelo. He had seen Roman sar-
cophagi, on which battle scenes were pictured in rows, one above
the other-thus a Battle of the Amazons, in which mounted
women formed the uppermost row, warriors afoot the second,
and the fallen the lowest. In his own work the equine body is
kept obscure even while the centaur Eurytion looms over the top-
most row and a single fallen centaur takes up much of the bottom
row with the back of his ponderous body. The main struggle rages
in the middle.
The scene is set in primeval times. Like the Greeks under
Hercules, the centaurs fight with big boulders and bare fists,
though there is an occasional club and several of the subordinate
figures are archers. The battle is over women, whom the centaurs
Early Youth in Florence i29

seek to abduct, while the Greeks want them for themselves. So

savagely do they tug at them that sometimes they seize the hap-
less woman by her hair to set her free; or they lift her to their
shoulders, or hold her under the arms to bear her off. Oddly
enough, these women are rather masculine in aspect-one must
look closely to distinguish them from the young men by any cri-
terion but their long hair.
Michelangelo, as already hinted, has managed by clever arti-
fice to represent five of the six centaurs in the relief as young
warriors, without the equine character of their bodies becoming
apparent. Like Goethe after him, Michelangelo was repelled by
the notion of four lungs, two hearts and two stomachs in the body
of a centaur. Essential centaur nature is revealed in the violence
and ferocity of the fight, met in kind by the stone-hurling Greeks.
Hercules with his somewhat more robust figure forms an interest-
ing contrast to the slender and imperious figures toward which he
strides with hostile intent. He holds a heavy boulder in his hand.
Eurytion, focal point of the relief, brandishes a club at Hercules,
who parries the blow with his left arm, about which he has
wrapped his chlamys.
The work, now kept in the Casa Buonarroti, is executed with
astonishing technical virtuosity. Michelangelo rounded the figures
with the greatest care, using file and drill. Yet the work is not
completely finished.


Michelangelo's deep-seated preference for simplicity, for the

detached and unique, drew him away from the type of Roman
sarcophagus relief he had in mind when he fashioned the Battle
of the Centaurs. He never returned to this many-charactered
type of relief composition.
The Madonna of the Stairs, according to Vasari done at the
i30 Michelangelo
same time as the Centaur relief, is a small marble panel twenty-
two inches high, in such flat relief as to deserve the Italian
designation schiacciato and hence unique among Michelangelo's
works. Vasari remarks it was intentionally made to imitate (con-
trafare) Donatello's manner.
Even here, in the calm solitude of the image of woman and
mother he sought to realize, we sense the Michelangelo we
know. The whole manner of treatment partakes of delicacy and
restraint. The style of the Madonna has grandeur and gravity.
The boy has been frolicking with his older playmates and has now
fled to the security of her lap, where she holds him firm. Yet the
tenderness that might have been expected is altogether lacking
in the attitude. Indeed, a trait characteristic of Michelangelo is
revealed even here-the mother's eyes do not fall on the child.
She gazes before her, lost in grave and perhaps melancholy rev-
erie. She is seated on a cubic stone, her feet crossed, always a
sign of meditation with Michelangelo. Her foot does not quite
compare with the beautiful hands, with which she gathers her
robe about the little one, who turns his strong back and neck
toward the beholder.
This is the first work of Michelangelo in which we encounter
not only his technique but his spirit. In its innermost nature it
reminds of no other artist in the world.
Yet some features of the setting soften the impression and,
even though highly stylized, revert back to contemporary every-
day life in Florence. The stairs by which the Madonna sits lead
almost straight up, in lines surely meant to match the Holy
Mother's upright posture. But it is also the kind of stone stairway
that leads to a country house near Florence. Higher up a fresh-
faced bigger boy leans out to hang a blanket from the wall with
someone else, perhaps to protect mother and child against the
draft. On the top step a pair of small boys are barely outlined.
These children lend the relief an unusual element of naive ex-
uberance. Yet the scene is dominated by the sublime dignity
that issues from the profile of the great Madonna.

After Lorenzo's death in April 1492 Michelangelo had given

up his quarters in the Palazzo Medici and returned to h~ _father.
So depressed was he that for many days on end he was unable
to tackle any task. Heretofore the choice of his themes had been
largely determined by Lorenzo's wishes. Henceforth, having re-
gained his peace of mind, he must work on his own.
Since he felt a desire to do a marble figure overlifesize, he
purchased for a modest sum a marble block that had long been
lying exposed to wind and weather. He wanted to fashion it into
a statue of Hercules. His teacher Bertoldo had made many stat-
uettes of this subject, for the Florentines put much stock in Her-
cules, who appeared in the city's arms as their symbolic hero.
Quite apart from that, it is scarcely surprising that his first
statue should be a Hercules, for strength was more appropriate
to Michelangelo's nature than grace. Vasari calls the work ad-
mirable ( cosa mirabile). It was bought by a Strozzi and until
1530, when Florence was besieged and taken by the armies of
Pope Clement, it stood in the courtyard of the Palazzo Strozzi.
Agostino Dini, major domo of Filippo Strozzi, then sold it to
Giovanni Battista Palla, a close friend of Michelangelo, who
bought up ancient and contemporary works of art for Francis I.
Thus the statue of Hercules wound up in France, and early in
the eighteenth century it still stood in the Jardin de l'Estang in
Fontainebleau. It was thence removed in 1713 and has since
disappeared-a loss all the more serious since we are thereby de-
prived of Michelangelo's first effort to represent a heroic figure.
It was not long until the Medici family again summoned the
young man. Lorenzo's successor Piero once again had him sit at
the Medici table. The occasion that reminded Piero of him was a
z32 Michelangelo
heavy snowfall in Florence. Such events were by custom festive
occasions, on which huge snow figures were set up outside the
churches and palazzi. Outstanding artists were glad to lend a
hand. Tradition called especially for marzocchi, the lions couchant
that are the symbol of Florence. What snow figure Michelangelo
fashioned is not known, only that it stood in the courtyard of the
Palazzo Medici. Piero's good will toward its creator did not melt
away with it. Piero seems to have valued Michelangelo's services
highly, and it is merely an expression of the resentment of the
Medici the artist felt in his later years when he maintained as an
old man Piero had taken pride in the services of two extraordinary
men, himself and a Spanish sprinter the prince could not over-
take even on horseback.


The picture we have so far been able to form of Michelangelo's

temperament is quite incomplete. We have noted his zeal, his
capacity for learning swiftly, his love of his family-even though
those closest to him scarcely understood him-his vaulting am-
bition, his almost innate sense of self-assertion and, finally, the
arrogance and predilection for taunting his teachers and fellows
to which it gave rise. Yet the immense power that slumbered
within him was offset by an equally conspicuous weakness. He
was necessarily sensitive-in the meaning of receptivity to a
wealth of sensory impressions-and this led to sudden attacks of
anxiety or embitterment, leading in turn to ill-considered actions
that demanded and usually found indulgence.
At the time Savonarola was wreaking havoc and confusion
among the minds of Florence with his preachments. Fear had
laid hold of the people, including even the leading citizens, bear-
ers of renowned names like Salviati and Strozzi, outstanding
Early Youth in Florence 133
scholars like Poliziano and Pico della Mirandola, eminent painters
like Botticelli. The great citizens became Dominicans and the
two savants-both of whom died in 1494-desired to be buried
in Dominican habit. According to Vasari, Botticelli carried his
drawings and paintings of nudes to the pyre to have them burned.
A brother of Michelangelo joined the Dominican order.
It is likely that a breath of this anti-rationalism touched the
mind of the fifteen-year-old boy when Savonarola began his ser-
mons in 1490. It has been suggested that he witnessed Savona-
rola's "awesome" sermon of September 21, 1494, and was shaken
by it. But those who sense a connection between Michelangelo's
youthful memories of Savonarola and the religious awe that finds
expression in the aged artist's verses are mistaken. Nor are there
any grounds for associating his nervous attacks, his anxiety and
his increasingly frequent desperate acts with the fever which the
Dominican of San Marco had engendered within the mind of
Florence many years before.
An utterance of Michelangelo, written down only two months
before Savonarola was burned at the stake, is on record. It is quite
unfeeling, indeed, almost cynical in its indifference toward hu-
man life, where monks and heretics are involved.
Himself the great master was a pagan of the purest hue, both
in his character and in his art-unconsciously, it is true. Yet on
March 10, 1498, he wrote to his brother Buonarroto from Rome in
mocking tones. The last letter received, he said, had given him
great comfort, since it had enlightened him on "your seraphic
brother Jerome's [Savonarola's] cause, which is the talk of Rome.
They say he is a moldy heretic, hence must come to Rome at all
costs, to do a bit of prophesying here and to be canonized, which
surely will please all his adherents."
The letter goes on to say: "No news here, except that yester-
day seven paper bishops were appointed [heretics taken to the
place of execution wore tall paper hats], five of whom were strung
up." There is no trace of compassion here; and if Michelangelo
felt so little for Savonarola's adherents, one may conclude that he
i34 Michelangelo
reacted coolly to the news of Savonarola's own execution, which
took place in Florence on May 23.
No, the sudden outbreaks of apparently inexplicable anxiety
that marked Michelangelo's life for many years almost certainly
had no roots in religious crisis.
More likely Carl Justi is right in attributing to the prophetic
mind of the inspired youth a capacity for foretelling misfortune.
In the fall of 1494 he suddenly vanished from Florence. Without
means, and apparently without even a fixed goal, he rode away
in the direction of Bologna, leaving all his Florentine undertak-
ings behind. He did not even tell his father of his flight.
It is possible that popular unrest about the Medici leadership
unconsciously gave the hypersensitive youth an inkling that his
patrons might be cast out by a rebellion. There were fears that
Charles VIII, king of France, whom Savonarola during the
Lenten season of 1494 had called "the new Cyrus," might hold
his entry into Florence. As an old man, Michelangelo offered
Condivi an explanation that implies superstition. An improviser
named Cardier, highly esteemed by Lorenzo, had told him of a
terrifying dream. He had seen Lorenzo before him in a black,
tattered robe and had been charged to tell Lorenzo's son Piero
of Lorenzo's impending banishment. The apparition had been
repeated. Michelangelo had hastened to Careggi, but Piero and
his chancelor Bibbiena, who chanced to meet him on the way, had
only laughed at him.


Michelangelo's flight, with two young companions, took place

during the first half of October 149+ It led by way of Bologna to
On October 26 Piero rode out to meet King Charles and assure
Early Youth in Florence 135

him of his loyalty. On this occasion he surrendered his frontier

strongholds to the king, though he had instructed his messengers,
who arrived only after he did, to refuse such surrender. He in-
vited the king to his palazzo in Florence. But on November g, on
his way to the Palazzo Vecchio to give an accounting of his ac-
commodation with the French, he was received with such hostil-
ity by the Florentine aldermen that he and his two brothers had
to take flight.
In Venice Michelangelo quickly ran out of money. He had to
make up his mind to return so quickly that he scarcely got a look
at the city.
On returning to Bologna, he was detained, because he had
neglected to advise the authorities of his presence, as all strangers
were required to do. Fortunately he attracted the notice of a
Bolognese nobleman, Gianfrancesco Aldovrandi, a member of
the Grand Council, who questioned him closely. Aldovrandi had
been podesta in Florence in i486-87 and had many connections
there, especially with the house of Medici. When he learned that
the young man was almost a Medici foster-son and a sculptor be-
sides, whose training Lorenzo had personally directed, Aldo-
vrandi generously took Michelangelo into his own home.
Not long afterward Fiero, on his flight from Florence to Venice,
reached Bologna, where he stopped at the Palazzo Rossi as a
guest of the Bentivogli. There Michelangelo was able to pay his
respects to him.
In the Palazzo Medici the young man had listened to recitals
of poetry, old and new. Aldovrandi was fond of hearing Dante's
Divine Comedy, Petrarca's sonnets and Boccaccio's Decameron
read aloud in pure Tuscan diction, finding the Bolognese dialect
harsh on his ears; thus in the evening, before his host fell asleep,
Michelangelo would read to him.
Aldovrandi conceived the idea of taking advantage of the
presence in his home of a talented young sculptor to set himself
an enduring monument in the memory of his fellow citizens. He
escorted his young guest to the church of San Domenico and
i36 Michelangelo
there showed him the splendid tomb that had been erected
around Bologna's precious relic, the body of St. Dominic. The
marble sarcophagus (Arca di San Domenico) had been executed
in the thirteenth century and was decorated below with reliefs,
above with statuettes, by Nicola Pisano. In the fifteenth century
this Arca had been provided with a tall superstructure culminat-
ing in a single statue and adorned with smaller statues, of which
three were still missing. The others were the work of Niccolo dell'
Arca, who had died just before Michelangelo's arrival in the city.


According to plan eight statues of saints were to line the tall

headpiece covering the old sarcophagus, four on each side. Of
these, St. Petronius, patron saint and defender of Bologna, was
still missing in the front row; and in the back a local saint, a
Christian soldier and martyr, supposedly executed under Diocle-
tian as the murderer of the imperial procurator Maximus. This St.
Proculus is said to have been beheaded on the spot where his
church was built. Michelangelo did the figure-and that is about
all to be said of it-a stocky youth without nobility of bearing,
with a large head and rather ordinary features. The tunic is remi-
niscent of other work the young artist did at the time. He also did
the St. Petronius and the Kneeling Angel to the right below. This
small angel, twenty inches high, is indeed charming; but it lacks
the originality of Michelangelo's two earlier marble reliefs.
For his conception of St. Petronius Michelangelo found a model
in one of the cathedral's archways. Jacopo della Quercia had there
represented the saint carrying the city of Bologna in his right
hand. Michelangelo transposed the miniature city, churched,
Early Youth in Florence 137
towered and walled, to the left hand of the saint, who supports
the toy model with his right, thus giving more life and movement
to the figure. The tall tiara and heavy bishop's mantle the young
artist copied as necessary attributes. Decorative purpose and
traditional ecclesiastic drapery severely limited his originality.
The third task set the beginner was a counterpiece to the
kneeling, candelabra-bearing angel of Niccolo dell' Arca. To-
gether the three statues, total creative output of Michelangelo's
year in Bologna, do not weigh heavily in his life's work. Even so,
they created such envy of the sculptor that he felt it best to leave
He did take with him one strong and lasting impression-of
the reliefs on the doorway of San Petronio, by Jacopo della
Quercia. Here his eye met ten scenes from Genesis, five on each
of the lateral pilasters and eighteen half-length prophets set be-
side the portal. All the elements were ornamentally employed yet
done with a rare sense of beauty, strait-jacketed by the vertical
exigencies of a large door frame yet grandly conceived and imagi-
natively executed. Jacopo had been the first Tuscan goldsmith's
apprentice to bring new form to his figures through the study of
nature and of antiquity. Two of his works are particularly pleas-
ing to the eye-his Fonte Gaia, the public fountain that lends the
Piazza del Campo in Siena its poetic aspect (executed i409-19),
and these decorations of the doorway of San Petronio (about
i425-38), a great achievement that serves almost as a prelude to
the ceiling paintings in the Sistine Chapel.


When Michelangelo returned from Bologna to Florence, he

found the Palazzo Medici, exalted scene of his youthful years,
i38 Michelangelo
plundered. There was a price on Piero's head and the property
of the house of Medici had been sold at public auction.
Only two grandsons of Cosimo's brother were left, Lorenzo
and Giovanni di Pierfrancesco de' Medici who, from hatred of
Piero, had joined Charles VIII and returned in his train. To lend
substance to their democratic sentiments, they had assumed the
name of Popolani in place of Medici.
It is to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco that Michelangelo's earliest
surviving letter is addressed. Lorenzo had given him letters of
recommendation for his first sojourn in Rome. The letter in ques-
tion is dated July 2, i496, and testifies to a close acquaintance.
Lorenzo's brother Giovanni was accounted the handsomest
young man in Florence. Caterina Sforza, following the assassina-
tion of her husband Girolamo Riario and her cruel and blood-
thirsty revenge on his murderers, had taken one lover after another
(Antonio degli Ordelaffi, Giacomo Feo). Giovanni Popolani, whom
the republic had appointed its ambassador in Forll, initially was
her third lover, then her second husband. But he died in i498,
soon after having become the father of the renowned Giovanni
delle Bande Nere.
Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco lived until i503 and knew Michel-
angelo, presumably through Poliziano. Michelangelo's respected
patron, he was not merely a statesman but wrote verse and tried
his hand at painting. Above all he was, like his greater namesake,
a patron of the arts, as seen from dedications to him by Poliziano
and Amerigo Vespucci and the commission for illustrating the
Divine Comedy which he gave Botticelli, to whom he was par-
ticularly close. It was for Lorenzo's estate, the Villa Castelli, that
Botticelli painted his graceful masterpieces, Spring and the Birth
of Venus.
About i495 Michelangelo made a marble statue of the youth-
ful St. John (San Giovannino) for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco. Lost
today, it was probably in the style of mingled power and ele-
gance, inspired by antiquity, that was preferred by Lorenzo and
his environment.

All the biographies of Michelangelo follow Vasari and Con-
divi in relating the well-known anecdote of how the artist, in jest,
gave one of his works, a marble statue of a Sleeping Cupid, the
aspect of an ancient sculpture, thus realizing a much higher
price. The dealer Baldassare del Milanese actually sold the statue
under such a label to Cardinal Raffaello Riario in Rome for two
hundred florins. But Baldassare was dishonest. He gave the young
artist but thirty of the two hundred florins. When Michelangelo
wanted to buy back the work, Baldassare refused; but when the
cardinal learned of the fraud, he insisted the transaction be
~ This incident, however, required Michelangelo to visit Rome
and thus became the occasion for his beholding, while still quite
\ young in years, the world capital with all its treasures and all

I l
the personages that ruled it in various ways. Four years he
was vouchsafed in the city of antiquity, where the earth opened
her bowels and by the end of the fifteenth century had given back
to the world the Apollo of Belvedere and the Laocoon.
Michelangelo's own Sleeping Cupid passed through the col-
lections of Isabella d'Este of Ferrara and Charles I of England,
but is now lost.


On June 25, 1496, twenty-one-year-old Michelangelo made his

entry into Rome through the Porta del Popolo.
i40 Michelangelo
Alexander VI was in residence in the Vatican, but Riario,
boasting the titles of Cardinal of San Giorgio and Chamberlain of
the Roman Church, was enormously influential. From the above-
mentioned letter to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici we learn
that Michelangelo, immediately upon his arrival, paid his humble
respects to the cardinal whom he had sought to fool by a disin-
genuous artifice.
The cardinal received him in his old Palazzo Sant' Apollinare,
where he had lived since 1483 and whence he had transferred his
ancient art treasures to his new palazzo. He invited the young
artist to view them there, which Michelangelo did so thoroughly
that he spent an entire day on it and was thus unable to deliver
immediately the other letters of recommendation Lorenzo di Pier-
francesco de' Medici had given him.
The very next day the cardinal received Michelangelo at his
new palazzo, the famed Cancellaria, whither he was about to
move. He asked the young man his judgment of the art works he
had seen, and Michelangelo replied that "in his view there were
many fine things among them." When the cardinal asked him
further whether he was confident of his ability to execute com-
parable works, Michelangelo replied that perhaps he could not
rival them in scope but that the cardinal would be able to see what
he could do. Continuing in his letter, he wrote: "We have now
purchased a block of marble for a lifesize figure and next Monday
[July 4, 1496] I shall commence the work."
Poor but fortunate, Michelangelo had at once managed, here
as in Bologna, to have a roof over his head in the home of an
aristocrat, a nobleman in Riario's services, whose name is not men-
tioned. Unlike visitors in later years, he needed no time to get his
bearings amid Rome's colorful life and relics of the past. He set
about his work at once.
First Sojourn in Rome

Jr IS QUITE UNLIKELY that any romantic nostalgia for the

past laid hold of the youthful Michelangelo when he first beheld
Rome. With the sweeping vision of the creative artist, he swiftly
perceived that the palazzi here were not built like the miniature
strongholds he knew from his home town; their columns and
arches lent them a brighter, more open aspect. Yet from his very
first day in Rome, Michelangelo, we know, steeped himself thor-
oughly in such monuments of ancient art as were accessible to
At the outset, as already mentioned, he inspected the collec-
tion of antiquities of RaHaello Riario, the Cardinal of San Giorgio,
i42 Michelangelo
in the Palazzo della Cancelleria. In erecting this edifice the car-
dinal had ruthlessly garnered the most magnificent ancient speci-
mens he could find, such as the forty-four granite columns from
the ancient basilica of Pope Damasus I. To get the marble panel-
ing needed, an ancient triumphal arch had been stripped, as well
as a temple, the ruins of certain baths, and perhaps even the
Over and above many busts of emperors, the palazzo con-
tained, among other rarities, a Minerva and two monumental
statues that are familiar and renowned even today: a Hera, now
in the Rotunda of the Vatican; and a Melpomene, now in the
Louvre. 0 It was to these that the cardinal alluded when he in-
quired whether Michelangelo trusted himself to execute statuary
on so heroic a scale; for they are indeed gigantic; and hitherto the
cardinal had seen but one work from the hand of Michelangelo:
the Sleeping Cupid, given out to be an ancient sculpture. This, to
be sure, he had not been minded to include in his collection.
The Cancelleria did not stand alone. The remaining palazzi,
whether of cardinals or other men of wealth, were replete with
collections of ancient art. As early as 1471, Pope Sixtus IV had
thrown open the Capitoline Museum to the people.
Even out in the open, it was by no means works of ancient
architecture alone, large and small, from the Coliseum to the
Pantheon, that were accessible to viewers of antiquities. There
was sculpture as well-the Dioscuri, Trajan's Column, the statue
of Marcus Aurelius, the Nile, the Apollo of Belvedere, the Pas-
quino, which was to be especially important to Michelangelo's
own work. The Apollo of Belvedere-just when it was found is
not known-then stood in the park of Cardinal della Rovere, later
to become Pope Julius II. This was the garden of the palazzo
which Giuliano da San Gallo had built the cardinal near his titular
church, San Pietro in Vincoli.
For a description of the ancient sculptures once in the collection of Cardinal
Riario, see P. G. Hubner, Le Statue di Roma, Leipzig, 1912.
First Sojourn in Rome 143
Everywhere in the many palazzi and churches sculptors and
painters were busily at work. Most of them came from Florence,
or at least Tuscany-though Michelangelo himself was not par-
ticularly interested in the resident Florentines or the Umbrians.
The most important among them were engaged in the work on
the Sistine Chapel-and in the course of time Michelangelo, in
the self-same chapel, was to outshine, indeed overwhelm them
We have seen how little he thought of Ghirlandajo. The tombs
by Pollaiuolo, meritorious as they were, left him unmoved. He
never took the time for a calm appraisal of Perugino. Indeed, later
he brusquely characterized him as stupid ( goffo); and if Perugino
was little to his taste, it may be imagined that Perugino's talented
disciple Pinturicchio, the Borgia favorite who did the frescoes in
the Appartamento Borgia, found even less favor with him. Deli-
cate and luminous as were Pinturicchio's tints, the inward light of
his feeling was not the equal of Perugino at his best.
Nor is there a trace of evidence that so grave and true a painter
as Mantegna, or so passionate and beauty-loving a master as Me-
lozzo da Forll., left any impress on Michelangelo. Antiquity alone
was his taskmistress; it harmonized with his propensity toward
grandeur and simplicity.
Yet it is quite significant that the ancients by no means served
as his direct model all the time. He often worked from books of
sketches and patterns. In his architectural studies of building de-
tails-the Doric columns in the theater of Marcellus, among others
-he originally drew from designs rather than from nature; but
this, to be sure, was only in the very early days; he soon rose high
above resort to crutches of any kind.
Michelangelo's original intent, on his journey to Rome, had
been to stay there only briefly; but his return was put off and at
last indefinitely postponed. His brothers visited him in Rome-
Fra Leonardo, who seems to have been up to some mischief, since
he was unfrocked, and his favorite brother Buonarroto, for whom

i44 Michelangelo
he found quarters in an inn, since he could not take him into his
own lodgings.
A letter of July 1, 1497, shows that Michelangelo had difficul-
ties in getting his money from the cardinal; but these seem to have
been soon overcome, for not much later he was able to help not
only his brothers, but his father, who had got into debt.
About this time Piero de' Medici, Michelangelo's one-time
patron, now in exile, gave him a new commission. We learn that
the artist bought a marble block for five florins, and then another,
likewise for five florins, when the first one turned out to be worth-
less. But nothing became of the work for Piero, perhaps on ac-
count of the exile's financial straits. On the other hand, Michel-
angelo records that he was doing a figure "for his own pleasure,"
i.e., without a commission.
Meanwhile the artist received an important commission from
another patron, the wealthy Roman nobleman Jacopo Galli, a
great banker, highly respected at the papal court and carrying the
title of papal secretary ( scriptor litterarum apostolicarum). A
connoisseur of art, Galli commissioned a Bacchus from Michel-
angelo, to be executed, according to Condivi, in his own house
( gli face fare in casa sua). If this is the literal truth, there is a
bare possibility that Galli is the nobleman from Riario's entourage
who gave shelter to Michelangelo from the outset. In any event,
Galli came to know the young artist through Riario, to whom he
was close.
Jacopo Galli proved to be a devoted patron. Not only did he
himself commission the Bacchus, and thereafter an Eros; from
the Cardinal of Santa Sabina he obtained for Michelangelo the
commission that was to be decisive for the artist's first Roman
period, the most important work of his youth that established his
reputation-the Pieta.

Michelangelo's Bacchus, which Shelley passionately decried as

unpoetic-he called it "the most revolting mistake of the spirit
First Sojourn in Rome i45
and meaning of Bacchus"-is technically among the artist's most
splendid achievements. Michelangelo was not enthusiastic about
the subject as such. Abstemious himself, he found no pleasure in
wine, and the figure of Bacchus was quite uncongenial to his
thinking. Yet that did not keep him from creating a masterpiece,
if a somewhat repellent one.
What Michelangelo saw in Bacchus was a young man swaying
from side to side under the influence of drink, and he took delight
in showing the effects of inebriation on the male body. We know
that the early Renaissance took a thoroughly humdrum view of
Bacchus, never viewing this Thracian god as a symbol of ecstasy.
Boccaccio found only base traits in the god of wine. It was Mar-
silio Ficino who first put Phoebus and Bacchus side by side, as
spendor and delight ( allegrezza) in poetic speech. Yet Michel-
angelo's Bacchus does not express exuberance but rather gluttony,
and he is not far from the sleeping Noah on the Sistine ceiling,
in whom drunkenness is allied with humiliation.
The elementary problem for this Bacchus with the brimful
bowl is to keep his balance while drinking. Yet at heart the
treatment is devoid of humor. Sculpturally, the object was to main-
tain plastic organization in a figure which has lost control over its
limbs. This Bacchus lacks the hermaphroditic aspect that char-
acterizes representations of the god from Greek antiquity down to
the days of Thorvaldsen. The figure is massive, the small, round
head seems drawn from life. By making the body flabby, the artist
apparently sought to show the effects of dissipation on a drunkard.
Yet all is subordinated to the goal of making the interplay of con-
tours pleasing to the eye.
The statue is meant to be viewed in the round. The muscles of
the back and the calves with their taut tendons are modeled with
extreme care. Even the little Pan comes into his own, whether
viewed from front or back. In him the irony that is but implicit
in the statue proper is openly expressed. The boy satyr mocks the
god, while nibbling at his grapes.

The works mentioned so far are milestones on a great artist's

early road toward the kind of perfection that moves, ennobles and
emiches the mind, not only of the individual, but of mankind. It
is in Michelangelo's Pieta, dating back to his twenty-fourth year,
that profound sentiment and exalted mastery are blended.
In his capacity as a banker, Jacopo Galli was in touch with a
French prince of the Church, France's principal orator at the papal
court, Jean de Groslaye de Villiers, Cardinal Presbyter of Santa
Sabina and Abbot of St. Denis. Galli proposed that the cardinal
commission Michelangelo to do a group composed of the Virgin
with the body of Jesus, boldly pledging it "would be Rome's
finest marble, than which none living could do better."
The work was to be installed in the "Temple of the King of
France," i.e., the chapel of St. Petronilla in the original St. Peter's.
King Louis XI had recently had this chapel restored. Archaic mo-
saics in the dome looked down on monuments and grave inscrip-
tions of many French lords, soon to include the Cardinal of Santa
Sabina himself; for he barely survived completion of his comis-
sion. On August 6, i499, his own castrum doloris stood in the
The plan had been for Michelangelo to go to Carrara as
early as i497, there to obtain the great marble block needed for
the group. His design for the work had been accepted in No-
vember of that year, the money remitted and a letter written by
the cardinal, addressed to the authorities in Lucca and requesting
them to show all the necessary courtesies to the artist upon his
impending arrival for the purpose of obtaining the marble. Bu
judging from Michelangelo's letters, he can scarcely have reache
Carrara before March i498. There he saw for the first time th
First Sojourn in Rome i47
marble quarries that were to preoccupy him so deeply and take
up such an inordinate share of his precious time. Michelangelo
altogether lacked the ability to get others to work for him. He
had to do everything himself.
When the marble block had safely reached Rome, the contract
was concluded and signed. Michelangelo was to receive 450 gold
florins for his work, which was to be completed one year from the
date. One senses the artist's proud self-confidence in being content
with so brief a time span.
The sculptors of the thirteenth century, who represented the
Passion or the death of martyrs in the churches, conceived of suf-
fering as a reflection of divine bliss. All pain was outshone by the
gentleness and lovingkindness, the innocence and love here mani-
fested. Christianity, familiar as an article of faith, was triumphant.
The early fifteenth century brought a change in sentiment.
The somber and tragic elements in Christianity asserted them-
selves in the representation of suffering, at the expense of faith
In Italy the theme of the Mother's reunion with her crucified
son had originally attracted painters rather than sculptors. Giotto
had projected his quiet inwardness, Giovanni Bellini his lofty dig-
nity and grave sentiment into the Madonna's torment. Botticelli,
finally, could scarcely outdo himself in expressing her despair.
With him Mary falls in a dead faint, while the others present sob
Moving from such representations to the calm of Michel-
angelo's Pieta, we find our souls deeply touched by the quiet sub-
limity of overwhelming but muted sorrow that speaks without
words and does with a minimum of gesture. This Madonna, com-
posed despite her deep agony, is the noblest expression of an ele
mentary sense that something incomprehensible has happened
here, doing violence to nature, senseless in its outrageous horror.
Whoever has immersed himself in Michelangelo's first quiet
relief, the Madonna of the Stairs, knows how austere and melan-
choly was his emotional cast. But it is not until we confront this
148 !11ichelangelo
wondrous work, the Pieta, that we fathom the full depths of his
soul in its unique grandeur.
At the age of twenty-four he had plumbed the abyss of sorrow
in a single human soul. He had probed it in the soul of a mother
who has lost her all, her most precious treasure on earth, the being
she not only loved but encompassed with complete devotion. The
son whom she had given life in mysterious fashion, whom she
worshiped in obscure veneration-his dead body here rests upon
her lap, his life wantonly destroyed. Youthfully shy and tender
was the sentiment that rendered this lifeless male body so airy and
sublime, so delicate and free of the dross of earthly life.
And the Madonna herself is treated with the same tender awe.
She is intentionally represented as young, scarcely older than her
son; for in these mysterious reaches we are not subject to the laws
of everyday life. In his old age Michelangelo offered a theologic
explanation for this conspicuous youthfulness: the Virgin had
never known the life of the senses, which ages and corrodes.
Chaste as was her nature, she had kept young by a divine though
humanly motivated miracle.
The serenity that marks her features would appear super-
natural but for the eloquent gesture of the left hand, which reveals
that composure has been achieved only at the cost of inward
struggle. She suffers as only a higher being suffers. The misfortune
that has befallen her fails to disrupt the nobility of her features,
does not cloud the purity of her brow, its height emphasized by
the form and fall of her kerchief. Despite her desolation, her face
remains harmonious, with its fine straight nose, the beautiful
closed mouth, the firm strong chin, the inclination of the head-
all underlined by the ruffled hem of the robe at her throat.
As though enthroned she sits upon the flagstones of Golgatha,
at the foot of the cross, shrouded in mourning weeds like the
love that carefully enfolds the body on her lap. He lies stretched
across her knee, resting in the folds of her cloak, supported by her
right hand which reaches under his shoulder, almost reverently
First So;oum in Rome 149
shielded with a corner of the cloak, as though the slack body must
not be desecrated by any rude contact.
Just as none of Michelangelo's Madonnas look straight at
the proud or playing child, so the Mother of God in the Pieta
does not direct her gaze to the face of her grown and lifeless son.
Her eyes are downcast, lost in deep feelings of her own and even
deeper thoughts.

On this single occasion in his life, Michelangelo signed one of

his works with his name. Indeed, he did so rather conspicuously,
on a narrow band running from the Madonna's left shoulder
obliquely down across her body. In somewhat abbreviated form,
since there was not room for all the letters, he here chiseled his
Installed in the first chapel to the right of the entrance of St.
Peter's, much too high and poorly illuminated, Michelangelo's
Pieta scarcely comes into its own today. It was mounted here in
1749 A marble cross was added, a bronze halo behind the head
of Christ and two mediocre bronze angels, holding a heavy crown
above the head of the Madonna.


Toward the end of 1500 Michelangelo was so well situated that

he was able to come to the aid of his brothers and provide them
the means toward independence. Buonarroto, who had visited him
in Rome, was to open a business with Giansimone. A letter from
father to son of December 1500 echoes what Michelangelo had
been able to tell the old man: his workshop like his living quarters
was now well furnished and he was full of confidence, but suffered
from headaches, probably a consequence of overwork and his
150 Michelangelo
Spartan living habits. His father counseled him to take care of
himself, to complete his work in marble as soon as possible and
to return to Florence.
In the spring of 1501, probably in May, the artist was back
home, after an absence of four years. He returned as one who, with
a single masterpiece, had proved that at the age of twenty-six he
could lay claim to being the foremost sculptor of his country and
age, even though at the time a superman like Leonardo was still
living and working.
Second Sojourn in Florence

MccHELANGELO HAD BEEN in Florence but a few months

upon his return from Rome when, in August 1501, a committee
met to deliberate an art project. Another such group met a year
later. The results were commissions to Michelangelo for two
statues of David, one in marble, the other in bronze.
In 1494 Pierre de Rohan, Marechal de Gie, had been in Flor-
ence in the entourage of Charles VIII, the wretched little king,
who scarcely deserves the space he takes up in the history books.
Nine days before he came to Florence, where he took up residence
in the Palazzo Medici, Lorenzo's three sons had been expelled
(November 17, 1494).
i52 Michelangelo
In the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio Rohan had admired
the nude bronze David Donatello had executed for Cosimo de'
Medici. So great an impression had it made on the French con-
noisseur that he desired a similar one for the courtyard of his
newly built estate at Bury. This wish was transmitted to the
Signoria of Florence through the Florentine ambassador at Lyon.
The council was perplexed at the request. The great old sculptor
was dead.
The subject was a favorite one in Florence, where the biblical
king, glorified as the poet of the psalms and the ancestor of Jesus,
had assumed political significance-liberator from tyranny, with
the venerable Saul playing the role of tyrant, and prototype of the
just statesman. This was particularly true at the moment. The
French king, Louis XII, now encamped in Lombardy, had lib-
erated Florence from the threatening tyranny of Cesare Borgia.
Having been advised by its two ambassadors in Lyon, Piero
Tosinghi and Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, the Signoria
promised to cast about for a suitable artist. For a full year the
government of Florence searched for the worthiest candidate, to
whom to entrust the commission. Ultimately the aldermen grew
convinced that none was better qualified than the man already
commissioned to do a marble David. On August 12, 1502, a con-
tract was concluded with Michelangelo for the bronze statue that
was to be sent to France.
A year before, on August 16, 1501, a contract had been signed
for that other even more important commission. The subject was
the same, though the medium was different; and this task was
more interesting to Michelangelo, perhaps because it was the more
difficult, and he was among those to whom "nothing is easy except
the difficult."
The building committee for the cathedral, the so-called Operai
del Duomo (i.e., the heads of the woolen guild), had commis-
sioned Agostino di Duccio in 1463 to carve a heroic statue, and
when he succeeded, they had ordered "a prophet of gigantic stat-
ure" for the cathedral a year later. This time Duccio was not so
Second So;ourn in Florence i53
fortunate. He ignored the terms of the contract and the commis-
sion was withdrawn. Since then the huge marble block, on which
Duccio had worked, had lain unfinished for thirty-seven years.
How far Agostino's work had progressed is not certain, but the
block was considered to be miscut beyond salvage. The Signoria
had shown it to Andrea Sansovino when he returned from Por-
tugal, where he had worked with great honor for two kings in
succession. He declared he could do the job only if he were per-
mitted to add a few pieces of marble.
We know that in Michelangelo's eyes nothing was worse than
patchwork in the art of carving marble. As a penniless youth he
had probably never beheld a large block of marble, whether intact
or given up as hopeless by another sculptor, without feeling the
urge to master the stone himself. In contrast to Sansovino he now
declared he could retrieve a statue in one piece from the block.


In the first Book of Samuel, chapter 16, David makes his ap-
pearance as a shepherd lad. He brings fresh provender to his
brothers serving with the army of Saul, beholds Goliath, hears him
mock the Israelite host and volunteers to slay him. Refusing at
first, Saul ultimately accepts the offer, but insists on giving David
his own armor, puts a helmet of brass upon his head and girds him
with the king's sword. David, accustomed to go unclad, is unable
to move thus encumbered: "And he assayed to go; for he had not
proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for
I have not proved them. And David put them off him." This, then,
is the traditional explanation for David's nakedness, with Dona-
tello setting the style, so to speak. Donatello had left David only
a shepherd's cap and greaves.
Verrocchio's much later David Armed is different in character
i54 Michelangelo
from Donatello's, who is lost in an overwhelming sense of the deed
accomplished. Verrocchio's lean and slender youth is invested with
an unchallengeable sovereign dignity in the wake of victory.
What gives Michelangelo's David so much life and fascination
is the circumstance that Michelangelo alone represented his hero
at the height of inner and outer tension preceding combat rather
than after the triumph. The youth takes his foeman's measure with
his eyes, takes aim only with his glance. For the moment right
arm and hand are idle, but with his left hand David tightens the
sling that loops over his left shoulder and is to carry the stone. In
the next moment the right hand, swift as a flash, will seize the
leather pouch and hurl away the missile. The stance is lithe, the
main weight on the right foot, the left heel slightly raised. The
whole figure is ready to pounce, gathering itself in seeming repose
for the crucial deed.
All that was of innermost concern to him Michelangelo concen-
trated and projected in the expression on David's features-not
only the feeling of invincibility, the basic pattern of his own per-
sonality, but also the passionate temper that was his recurrent and
predominant mood, the ability and frame of mind to annihilate
resistance, to gain satisfaction by victory for himself and his own.
Observe this head, slightly inclined to one side the better to
encompass the target, the eyes of the born victor, the frowning
brow bespeaking violence in repose, the flaring, twitching nostrils,
the mouth firmly clamped shut, the beautifully shaped, forceful
chin, the mighty helmet of locks tumbling down in back and cov-
ering part of the strong, sinewy neck.
In representing a giant-killer, Michelangelo turned the tables
and solved a much more difficult problem, to create a giant, a
youthful body in heroic dimensions. That the hands, especially,
are notably large is of course intentional, characterizing the figure,
revealing its peculiarity. Other faults in the proportions-the shal-
lowness of the entire back-were contingent upon the shape of
the stone.
Second Sojourn in Florence 155
For the first time in Michelangelo's work we are startled by
the astonishing fact that this overlifesize figure was hewn from
the marble without the artist first having made preliminary stud-
ies. "Thereupon," says Vasari, "Michelangelo designed a model in
wax [for the operai del duomo L a young David, sling in hand."
This small model was apparently meant only to give the patrons
an idea of the project. Michelangelo always thought it sufficient
to give but the barest hints in his models.
One of the sonnets he wrote to Vittoria Colonna epitomizes
his method:
When once the image, perfect and inspired,
Of form and gesture, stands before the limner,
From humble stuff a model, plain, a glimmer,
He shapes, first birth-pang of the work desired.

A second parturition is required

To signify the promise of the hammer
In living stone, and what was but a stammer
Has now, from fairest concept, life acquired.

I too, born of myself the merest model,

Can but through thee, dear lady and exalted,
Attain that perfect stature which I cherish;

Yet should you fill my voids, my warp unraddle

In your compassion, shall I not be faulted,
Chastised and taught by turns, in ardor perish?

D'umil materia un semplice modello-tbe thought is varied

in still another sonnet, where the poet again speaks of the model
as sparse and slight (con breve e vil modello).
A rough model, fashioned at the moment of conception, was
all Michelangelo needed to fix outlines and attitude. The full-
size, indeed even outsize figure stood before his imagination with
such unfailing certainty, so vividly that, using only this lump,
z56 Michelangelo
scarcely deserving the name model, he was able to hew his giant
from the marble block. There is a tradition that he even went so far
as to forge his tools himself.


It was the impressions Michelangelo received in Rome from

the nude Dioscuri on Monte Cavallo that had given him the in-
spiration and the courage to create a similar colossus. From his own
resources he took the anatomical and physiological knowledge re-
vealed in the statue's attitude and limbs-e.g., the swelling veins
in the dangling right arm. The commission, pledged to be finished
within two years, took four additional months. It was begun on
September 13, 1501, and completed late in January 1504. The base
for the statue was entrusted to Simone del Pollaiuolo and Antonio
da San Gallo.
The Florentine authorities seem to have discovered political
hints in David's wrathful glance. At the outset the figures had
been viewed as a symbol of the national defense and of a govern-
ment of justice. The time of its completion marked a breathing
spell in public affairs. Piero de' Medici had been looked on as a
tyrant and there had been fears that Cesare Borgia would foist him
on Florence. But on August 18, i502, Alexander suddenly died
and the power of Cesare Borgia was broken. On December 28,
1503, only a month before the statue was finished, Piero de'
Medici drowned in the river Garigliano. On the last day of
October 1502, Julius II, favorably disposed toward the Florentines,
had become pope. The coincidence of no less than four events
gave rise to a sense of liberation from many threatening dangers.
A plan to set up the huge statue in front of the cathedral was
immediately dropped. Popular opinion was in favor of making
room for it either in the Loggia dei Priori (called the Loggia dei
Second Sojourn in Florence z57
Lanzi after 1541, because it had been the main guardroom of the
German mercenaries of Cosimo I) or in the Palazzo Vecchio.
But Donatello's David already stood in the courtyard of the
Palazzo Vecchio, a symbol of liberation. Outside the palazzo stood
Donatello's Judith, later sheltered in the Loggia. The consuls of
the woolen guild, through the Opera, therefore convened a com-
mission of thirty, which was to decide where the statue was to
be permanently installed. It included sculptors, painters, archi-
tects, miniaturists, goldsmiths, clockmakers, gem-cutters, embroid-
erers, carpenters and also two heralds of the Signoria. Among
well-known members were Leonardo da Vinci, Granacci, Botti-
celli, Perugino, Filippino Lippi, Lorenzo di Credi, Giuliano da
San Gallo, Andrea della Robbia, Sansovino, David del Ghirlandajo,
Simone del Pollaiuolo and Benvenuto Cellini's father. We see with
what earnestness the question of finding a place for a statue was
treated in Renaissance Florence-it was left to a commission of
art experts.
Since the statue was manifestly not intended to be viewed in
the round, the shoulder blades and entire back having been some-
what negligently treated, it seemed appropriate to set it up be-
fore a wall as a background, and this was rather swiftly agreed
upon. But the painters Cosimo Roselli and Botticelli favored a
location at the cathedral, with Donatello's Judith as a counter-
part, while Giuliano da San Gallo advocated a niche in the Loggia,
to protect the marble. Leonardo was of the same view, adding
only that the niche should have fitting decoration ( ornamento
decente ).
These views should have prevailed. It would have spared the
admirable polish of the marble and the statue would have had
enough light, had it been moved to the front, under the central
arch. But Michelangelo preferred a location before the Palazzo
della Signoria as the most honorific, a location most exposed to all
exigencies. This was demonstrated ( as already mentioned) dur-
ing the riots of 1527, when the statue's left arm was broken into
three pieces. The dimensions of the statue, moreover, were in-
258 Michelangelo
appropriate to the location. It appeared small against the mighty,
rough stonework of the palazzo. But the artist's wishes were
The transfer of the huge piece from the workshop to its loca-
tion took four full days, March 14-18, 1504. The wall of the house
of the Opera had had to be breached to bring it out and a guard
had to be posted since stones had been thrown at it. Medici ad-
herents were suspected of the outrage, supporting the view that
the statue had timely political as well as symbolic significance.
During its movement to the Piazza della Signoria the statue was
held slung in a wooden cradle.
It was set up on June 8, 1504 and unveiled on September 8.
Today Michelangelo's David, meant to be viewed in the open,
stands indoors in a museum, the Accademia of Florence. The
symbol of Florence has become a museum piece. In front of the
Palazzo Vecchio stands a modem copy.


An excellent pen-and-ink drawing, which has landed in the

Louvre, gives an idea of how the other David statue order from
Michelangelo-the one in bronze-was intended to look The
young hero is here somewhat older and more developed than the
shepherd lad in marble. Like that one, he is nude, but the mus-
cles are even more prominent. The left hand, from which the
sling still dangles, is lightly set against the hip. The body is
slightly bent backward, as though in a swift movement, the
raised right leg treading on the huge severed head of Goliath,
whose left cheek touches the small foot, finely shaped ankle and
strong shin of the firmly planted left leg. A right arm (for the
marble David) is carefully drawn in a larger scale on the same
sheet, and a few words written beside it show that Michelangelo,
Second So;ourn in Florence 159
in the vigor of his own youth, compared himself to David. He
Davicte cholla fromba-e io chollarco.
(David with the sling and I with the bow.)
He took the Italian idiom coll' arco dell' osso (with full
strength, with all energy) and simply shortened it. Perhaps this
was intended as a contrast to a quotation from Petrarca, dealing
with melancholy, which is written immediately below: "The lofty
column has toppled, together with the green laurel that shaded
my tired thoughts." Petrarca's poignant verse apparently found a
momentary echo in Michelangelo's soul; but the cloud passed as
his native self-confidence returned with the line above.
Marshal Rohan kept on pressing to get the commissioned statue
for his castle. But Michelangelo could not tackle the work until
the great marble namesake was finished. Of course Rohan in-
tended to pay whatever was asked for the statue. On its part, the
Signoria, which greatly valued France's friendship, had decided
to present him with the statue as a gift, as soon as it was finished.
Meanwhile the marshal lost favor with the king. The Floren-
tine council with its practical bent at once resolved to give the
statue to some other Frenchman, whose friendly feelings might
bring the city on the Arno some profit. Their choice fell upon the
king's financial secretary, Florimont Robertet, who might be most
useful to them in their money dealings with the king. Robertet
was sounded out by ambassador Francesco Pandolfini, as shown in
great detail in a letter by Pandolfini of September i505, still pre-
Michelangelo, as was his wont, had not finished his work.
Benedetto da Rovezzano was retained in October i508 to do what
was still to be done. A Signoria notation of November 6, i508, re-
ports that the David, now cast in bronze, had been at long last
"in God's name packed" and dispatched to France by way of
Leghorn. Robertet had the statue installed in the courtyard of
i6o Michelangelo
Chateau Bury near Blois, where it remained until the mid-
seventeenth century. It was then transferred to the Chateau de
Villeroy, where it continued to be studied for a long time by
French sculptors, who are supposed to have said it was worth its
weight in gold. 0
Then it vanished without a trace.

Among Donatello's many representations of the Madonna, all
in relief, is only one bronze statue, a curious work, placed above
the high altar of the church of Sant' Antonio in Padua. A crown
over her rich tresses, covered with the drapery of her robe, the
Virgin sits upon a throne whose two sides consist of elaborate
sphinxes. Her gaze is aloof-she is lost in thought. She leans
slightly forward, her arms straight down, holding with both hands
the delicate child who stands unsteadily in the folds of her robe,
his face turned full toward the viewer and bearing the same ex-
pression of sullen earnestness as his mother.
Such a figure may have been among the distant antecedents
of Michelangelo's beautiful and memorable Madonna of Bruges,
which startles the viewer at first glance by its smoothness and soft
Two Bruges merchants, Jean and Alexandre Mouscron, had
commissioned Michelangelo to do a Madonna. Vasari and Condivi,
neither of whom apparently saw it, described it as a bronze relief.
Albrecht Diirer, who did see it in 1521, significantly enough called
"an alabaster image of Mary, chiseled by Michael Angelo in
Rome." The work is actually of highly polished white marble.
In 1506 the group was still in Florence, though ready to be
0 The bronze David was a small statue, z* braccia (less than five feet) high. The

marble David with its base is almost seventeen feet high .

Second So;ourn in Florence 161

shipped to Bruges by way of Viareggio. In Bruges it was installed

in a chapel in the church of Notre Dame, where a black marble
niche sets off the work well and where the illumination is kind
to it.
This Madonna of his Michelangelo desired to invest with the
full sovereign dignity of the Queen of Heaven. He sought to ex-
press his notion of the sublime by making the figure utterly devoid
of passion, and in this he succeeded. Without looking at anyone-
neither at her son nor at the people-she exhibits the child crown
prince to her subjects with the unswerving poise of a born ruler.
In the face of neither mother nor son is there even a trace of a
smile or of the slightest awareness of the worshipful congregation.
They are enthroned on high and look downward before them,
where ordinary mortals must be thought to dwell.

Michelangelo, indeed, never really portrayed love purely

among human beings. It was foreign to his nature. He was a
lonely man, scarcely feeling the need for friends. He held people
in contempt and kept them at am1's length. When he did show
affection, it was from filial piety, or as a devoted brother, for the
sake of family honor. And when he loved-disposed as he was
toward the extremes of passion and sensitivity-he tormented
and consumed himself in yearning. To love a woman made him
feel deeply ashamed-the prudishness of centuries of medieval-
ism was in his blood. His only solace was that in love he wor-
shiped beauty-beauty everlasting. And when he loved a young
man, it was again his passionate veneration of beauty that ac-
quitted him, even as it swept him up. So great would be his ad-
miration that he would deprecate himself beyond measure,
merely to enhance and ennoble the object of his passion, speak
of himself as infinitely inferior. The other's favor, his approval of
a newly finished work, were the pinnacle of bliss to Michelangelo.
There is no trace of Christian charity, either in his life or in
his work, during his younger years. In his old age he achieved
Christian repentance, embraced the religious hysteria of the
i62 Michelangelo
Counter Reformation. In the end he represented Christ as Jove,
hurling thunderbolts, and, in the name of Christ, damned man-
kind, which inspired him with the deepest loathing, to the nether-
most depths of hell.

Under a contract dated as early as June 19, 1501, Michel-

angelo's friend Jacopo Galli had got him a commission from the
aged Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini, for fifteen statues for the
cardinal's tomb in the Siena cathedral. The task, however, ap-
parently left Michelangelo cold and he kept putting it aside. On
September 22, 1503, the cardinal became Pope Pius III, but he
survived for only twenty-seven days. The contract was confirmed
by his heirs. Michelangelo can have devoted himself only to the
statues of St. Paul and St. Peter, which show very fine heads and
hands. The statues of the two popes, Gregory the Great and
Pius I, may also be partly his work.


Michelangelo's mind was preoccupied with another matter-

his encounter with the greatest artist of the age, Leonardo da
Vinci, who had returned to Florence after an absence of seven-
teen years.
Leonardo had arrived in the spring of 1501, when Michel-
angelo was still in Rome. In 1502, as military engineer in the
service of Cesare Borgia, he had inspected the strongholds in the
Romagna, returning in 1503. The story of his fame pervaded the
Both the elder and the younger artist were on good terms with
Piero Soderini, who had been elected gonfaloniere for life in
1502. Leonardo, accounted as handsome as he was versatile even
as a youth, was now in his fifties, an impressive figure of a man.
Second Sojourn in Florence 163
He dressed unorthodoxly though in exquisite taste, wore, in con-
trast to the long Florentine robes, a rose-colored cloak that came
only to his knees, let his curly and well-tended beard grow down
over his chest. Magnificent in appearance, he was an artist of
rarest hue, a universal genius, a legend in his own time. His
demeanor was courtly, his mastery undisputed, but both his
character and circumstances had made him a stranger wherever
he went.
Under Ludovico Sforza, dubbed II Moro, he had worked and
trained disciples in Milan. His main lesson to them was that art
had for its object the totality of the works of nature and man. In
this respect he was sharply at odds with Michelangelo's highly
personal and instinctive creed that only the human body was a
worthy object of art. Leonardo insisted that the variety of things,
living and dead, challenged the painter to reproduce the peculiar
and the ugly as well as the beautiful and the graceful.
In Leonardo's view the artist had to make his soul a mirror
reflecting all things, doing justice to all things. Whoever mastered
but one field was a poor artist ( uno tristo maestro). One senses,
in Leonardo's later exposition of his views in his Treatise on Paint-
ing, a covert polemic against Michelangelo's diametrically op-
posite approach. Michelangelo, who all his life maintained that
sculpture rather than painting was his profession, insisted in his
conversations with Vittoria Colonna, which have come down to us
fairly accurately through Francisco de Hollanda, that the art that
takes something away, that is to say sculpture, is superior to the
art that adds something, to wit painting.
As late as 1549 Michelangelo wrote to Benedetto Varchi, who
had published a lezione examining the question of which art was
the nobler, la scultura o la pittura: "I declare that I deem painting
the better, the more it approaches relief, and that relief seems the
poorer, the more it approaches painting. To me sculpture is the
lamp of painting. The difference between the two is the difference
between sun and moon."
Leonardo, on the other hand, like Leone Battista Alberti be-
i64 Michelangelo
fore him, fervently praised the virtues of painting over sculpture
as over the other arts. He maintained that in view of the variety
of nature it commanded a far broader field, nor did he wish to
miss anything, not even dust and smoke, nor the effects of light,
the wide horizon, clouds and plants-all of them matters of in-
difference to Michelangelo, who as a sculptor, painter and poet
sought to depict only man.
Even as a painter Michelangelo worked primarily in the round,
while the pictorial element proper interested him least. By con-
trast Leonardo's main concern was the blending of colors and
shadows ( sfumato), so much so that in his last major work, St.
John, in the Louvre, he anticipates Rembrandt in making his fig-
ure emerge luminously from the dark.
All his life and even after his death, Leonardo was a thorn in
Michelangelo's flesh. As late as his seventy-fifth year Michel-
angelo speaks of Leonardo's theories with resentment bordering
on abuse. In the above-cited letter to Benedetto Varchi we read:
"If the man who wrote that painting deserves the palm over
sculpture knew as much about the other matters on which he
wrote, my cook could have done better."


These two titanic figures, separated by an age gap of twenty-

three years, found it difficult to appreciate, one the other, as is
not uncommon in contemporary geniuses of such different stripe,
especially when circumstances place them in a state of rivalry.
There can be little doubt, however, that Leonardo, whose urbanity
and poise were far above envy and jealousy, would have met
the rising young genius more than half way, had his willingness to
pave the way to an understanding met a response.
Second So;ourn in Florence 165
The fiery spirit that burned within Michelangelo made that
impossible. Even outwardly he sensed the contrast he formed to
the stately and exemplary figure Leonardo cut. He was ugly, or so
he thought, his face disfigured by Torrigiano's blow, uncouth and
awkward, indifferent to dress and appearance, inured to wield his
strong hands in passionate combat with marble. All his life his
arrogance, served by a sharp tongue, made him see only a rival
in every genius, junior or senior, who crossed his path. A rival-
in his eyes that meant an enemy, to be outshone. He hated
Leonardo from the beginning, as ten years later he hated Raphael.
His relationships to these two, however, were quite different.
In Leonardo Michelangelo encountered the artist in his prime, one
from whom he could not help but learn many things, perhaps un-
consciously, even as he sought to surpass him. In Raphael Michel-
angelo, then himself in his prime, saw the aspiring beginner, his
character even more alien than that of Leonardo, who zealously
and airily appropriated for his own use all that Michelangelo had
pioneered in art. Michelangelo's whole nature made it impossible
for him to see in Raphael anything but an imitator and plagiarist
who owed him everything. Contempt and hostility pervaded
whatever recognition of merit the younger artist may have elic-
ited. Toward Leonardo Michelangelo can scarcely have felt dis-
dain, but beyond doubt he did entertain a frank hatred of this
In versatility both artists were equally outstanding. Both were
painters, sculptors, draftsmen, poets. Leonardo apparently also
shone in music, but to restore the balance Michelangelo's gifts as
an architect were more marked. Both were eminent engineers.
Each reached the summit in painting and sculpture.
Michelangelo had the good fortune to leave behind many more
works than Leonardo, whose creations seemed to be ill-starred
and whose genius, moreover, led him to dissipate his energies
even more than did Michelangelo. But the main difference is that
Michelangelo was content with mastery in the fine arts and
i66 Michelangelo
notable stature as a poet, while Leonardo superimposed on the
artist the thinker, scientist and inventor in the grand manner, his
discoveries far outnumbering his works of art.
Leonardo's mind was in perpetual ferment. He brooded,
searched, probed, analyzed, investigated, dissected everything,
even the pigments he used. Then he would collect himself and
after the most painstaking preparation discharge his energy in
"everlasting" masterpieces that were either destroyed by time or
the heedlessness of man or that crumbled of their own accord.
Even when he had created something enduring, his spirit per-
sisted in regarding it as unfinished and continued to play with it.
Yet the two great men, in the face of their diversity, have many
traits in common, vast as may be the gulf between brusqueness
and grace, intuition and research.
In their art both held fundamentally aloof from orthodox
Christianity; both were fond of omitting haloes and all the other
ecclesiastic paraphernalia. They shared a delight in studying the
human body. When Leonardo represented clothed figures, he first
drew their nude outlines, as did Raphael after him-witness
Leonardo's drawings for the Adoration of the Kings and the Last
Supper. Both showed little concern for contemporary dress, in the
representation of which most Florentine painters delighted.
When commissions dealt with biblical themes, Michelangelo
was drawn to the Old Testament, which he unfolded before us all
the way from the majesty of the Creation to the genre paintings
of the Ancestors of Christ. Leonardo, on the other hand, turned to
the New Testament, when appropriate, though he carefully
avoided the Passion and one can scarcely envision him painting a
Crucifixion. Under his brush the Last Supper becomes a great love
feast and the Madonna and child a pure idyll.
Both have a definite affinity for antiquity. But while this was
all-encompassing with Michelangelo, setting the whole tone of his
art, it was of far lesser significance to Leonardo. His architectural
designs show a certain interest in the ancient column orders,
which he was fond of combining with Byzantine domes. He de-
Second So;ourn in Florence 167
rived his figure arrangements from ancient art as well. Oddly
enough, we find him complaining on one occasion that he was
unable to equal the symmetry of the ancients.
Like other masters of the Renaissance, Leonardo, in his ar-
chitectural endeavors, was influenced by Vitruvius, whom he often
cites. In his theories of proportion he proceeded from the princi-
ples of the ancient Greek sculptors. In his representations of rear-
ing horses he was inspired by the equine figures on ancient gems
-his biting war horses in The Battle of Anghiari are reminiscent
in attitude of an ancient cameo showing the fall of Phaethon.
Throughout his work one finds small hints of antiquity. One of
the figures in the Adoration of the Kings reminds of Praxiteles'
Faun, another of a bronze Narcissus in Naples.
The hermaphroditic features in not a few of Leonardo's pic-
tures echo the preference, at one period of antiquity, for blending
masculine and feminine traits in the figure of Bacchus, to say
nothing of Hermaphroditus proper. Leonardo's St. John, in the
Louvre, seems indeed of indeterminate sex, as do so many of the
youthful male figures Leonardo was fond of drawing.
Among their many resemblances, the two titans share a de-
ficiency in education by the standards of their time, in that neither
learned Latin in youth. Michelangelo, throughout his life, was
preoccupied with so many things that he never found the time to
make up for this lack. Leonardo, no less ambitious and more given
to study, made an effort in the fourth decade of his life to learn
Latin and apparently achieved a certain fluency, since he fre-
quently gives Latin quotations. But it did not come easy, as seen
from the word lists he made to aid his memory.


Different as were these two incompatible men, they shared a

propensity for pursuing vast schemes. We know that Michelangelo
i68 Michelangelo
flirted with the idea of shaping into human form a huge rock that
lay between Carrara and the sea, to serve mariners along the
Riviera as a lighthouse.
Leonardo, as an architect, was given to similar dreams. He
wished to erect a royal tomb, to consist of a man-made mountain
measuring two thousand feet across the base, surmounted by a
circular temple, the floor of which would have lain at the height of
the spires of the Cologne cathedral. The interior was to have
been as wide as the nave of old St. Peter's in Rome.
Leonardo's architectural plans show a tendency, foreign to
Michelangelo, for harnessing mechanical forces to the purposes of
beauty. Since Aristotile da Fioravantio, a Bolognese engineer who
had lived and worked in Moscow, had moved a tower without
damage, Leonardo proposed to the government of Florence a
plan for lifting the Baptistry by mechanical power and installing
it in an elevated position, with steps leading up to it. The Signoria
was cautious enough not to essay such a scheme.
In sharp contrast to Michelangelo, Leonardo loved to dwell
on the representation of feminine grace. Yet the attitude of both
men toward women is not dissimilar. No woman is mentioned by
name in any of Leonardo's manuscripts, with only two exceptions:
a model, and an aged housekeeper. History tells of not a single
liaison involving Leonardo with a woman; and the same thing is
true of Michelangelo.
Like Michelangelo, Leonardo was at home in pagan mythol-
ogy. He pictured a Medusa, a Leda, a Pomona, a Bacchus. On one
of his little sketches for The Great Flood he noted that a Neptune
with trident was to be shown amid the waters, and JEolus as the
ruler of the winds. He called hell "Pluto's Paradise."
He eschewed contemporary fashion, hair dress, foot gear
(fugire il piu che si puo gli abiti della sua eta). The toga seemed
to him the ideal costume for men. But in contrast to Michelangelo,
he delved deeply into the art of portraiture. We possess not a
single likeness from Michelangelo's hand. His bronze statue of
Julius II was soon melted down, nor was it done over for Julius'
Second so;ourn in Florence z69
tomb. The drawing of Cavalieri, the only other portrait Michel-
angelo is known to have made, is lost. We know, however, that
he regarded portraiture as a low form of art.
On the other hand, nothing has so memorably impressed
Leonardo's stature upon posterity as the marvelous portraits he
and his disciples have left us especially that wonder of wonders,
the Mona Lisa. One has only to regard Raphael's artless pen-and-
ink copy of it to sense Leonardo's profound grasp of womanhood. 0
Perhaps he found in woman some part of the mysterious power
that dwelt within his own soul.
Such is Leonardo, ever and always mysterious, effortless, yet
without a trace of mysticism. Each of his figures is marked by an
inward wealth, a fount within itself, casting a spell through which
the graceful play of line and form finds a way to the beholder's
soul. Compare his Leda with Raphael's naive conception, in which
the passionate swan with his curved neck becomes nothing more
than an overgrown gander. 0 0
It is plain enough that Leonardo, even though his name was
never coupled with that of a woman, did not see woman with
Michelangelo's eyes, never saw her as a menace. The heterosexual
relationship he may have abhorred, but he never looked down on
sexual attraction as such.


Both Leonardo and Michelangelo were poets. Michelangelo's

verses have come down to us, aiid they startle us with their blend-
ing of deep human passion and sophisticated reflection. He was at
Raphael's drawing, used for his portrait of Maddalena Doni, is in the Louvre,
Paris, where Leonardo's Mona Lisa may also be seen.
Drawings in the Devonshire collection, Chatsworth; in the Boymans Museum,
Rotterdam; small sketches and heads in the Royal Library, Windsor.
170 Michelangelo
bottom a poet of solid competence, but there is too much that is
labored in his considerable output.
Surprisingly enough in a creative artist of swift decision,
Michelangelo kept on revising, improving and polishing his verses;
and equally surprising, Leonardo, working with infinite delibera-
tion as an artist, making sketch after sketch before tackling a task,
was an improviser par excellence as a poet. Accompanying him-
self on a lyra di braccio he had constructed himself," he was able
to sing songs he made up on the spot. Il migliore dicitore di rime
all' improviso del tempo, he was called-the greatest lyric im-
proviser of his time.
We are in no position to judge Leonardo's verses, for they have
all been lost. We do know his prose. As for Michelangelo, his prose
we know only from his letters, which deal for the most part with
financial straits and family troubles. They have nothing to do with
art, even though they may include an occasional emotional pas-
sage. Leonardo, however, was clearly a stylist. His description of
a storm-the thrice-revised word picture of the Deluge-lives and
breathes, reveals the talent of a painter and musician transmuted
into words.
Michelangelo's poetry is introspective, marked now by bitter
irony, now by flaming pathos. Leonardo is preeminently thought-
ful and lucid, as revealed in his fables and parables. Take the one
about the butterfly that bums its wings: "Thou false light, how
many hast thou not wretchedly deceived in days gone by, as thou
hast deceived me! Were I meant to see the light, should it not
then also be within my power to tell the sun from a miserable
penny taper?" .
Leonardo's minor poetic endeavors reflect the clarity of his
mind, the serenity of his wisdom. Michelangelo at his best im-
presses with the power and fierceness of his style.
A final point of contact between the two great men that should
0 The lyra, predecessor of the violin, with five to ten playing strings and two

humming (resonating) strings, as described in G. M. Lanfranco's Scintille di

l\fusica, Brescia, 1533, p. 137.
Second Sojourn in Florence 171

perhaps be emphasized is their relationship to their patrons, who,

by setting them great tasks, nurtured their talents, even while they
were as different as their proteges themselves. For a time Leo-
nardo's relation to Ludovico Sforza was precisely that of Michel-
angelo's to Julius II.
It was the destiny of both these transcendent artists that they
abandoned virtually all their works before completion. Yet both,
at the crucial juncture of their younger years, came upon patrons
who put them to the creation of monumental works of the highest
order. But for Il Moro, Leonardo would not have executed the
equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza-or at least the model for
it-nor The Last Supper in Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan. But
for Julius II, Michelangelo would not have designed the pope's
tomb, executed so much later and on such a reduced scale, nor
have painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And strangely
enough, both rulers were matched to the divergent temperaments
of the two great artists: Ludovico, groping his way, spinning his
diplomatic web, vague, sensual, cruel, fond of art and eager to
wear the mantle of Lorenzo de' Medici as a patron of the arts;
Julius arrogant, hot-tempered, pugnacious, spontaneous, ever will-
ing to consider and carry out the most grandiose artistic plans.

A letter from the Vicar General of the Carmelite Order, Pietro

da Novellara, to Isabella d' Este (who kept asking that Leonardo
paint her portrait) tells us that he had done his cartoon for the
Virgin and Child with St. Anne and the Infant St. John early in
April i5oi. For the rest, he was at the time entirely immersed in
geometry. "Quite intolerant toward the brush," he did not even
like to listen to talk about painting commissions.
The cartoon of St. Anne had been displayed in the church of
i72 Michelangelo
Santissima Annunziata and throngs of visitors had praised it as a
marvel. The Servitan monks had originally commissioned Filip-
pino Lippi, but he had generously allowed it to go to Leonardo, in
acknowledgment of Leonardo's superior talents. It must have
been a drawing of overwhelming power, showing the qualities
that gained fame for the painting itself, as well as for several
others from Leonardo's hand-the intimate organization of four
figures into a single, living whole. Michelangelo's soul could find
no rest until he had done similar works, rivaling Leonardo, indeed,
preferably excelling them in ingenious and close-knit composition.
Judging from Vasari's description, Leonardo's cartoon shown
at the Annunziata cannot have been the one long in the Royal
Academy, and now the National Gallery, London. It was presum-
ably closer to the painting in the Louvre. Even the surviving Lon-
don cartoon, however, is so beautiful that it serves to explain the
enthusiasm aroused at the time by the one now lost. Together the
grandmother in her youthful beauty, the young mother and the
heavenly child join into a trio of love, grace and childlike in-
nocence, expanded into a powerful quartette by the little St. John,
hastening by and making obeisance to the child, who acknowl-
edges him with a gesture of blessing.
We do not find here the curious arrangement of the painting
in the Louvre, with the Virgin sitting on the lap of the broadly en-
throned St. Anne and in turn drawing to herself the child, who is
symbolically playing with the lamb. The whole cartoon is natural
and intimate, lifted above the sphere of mere grace by intimations
of great impending destiny.
The power with which Leonardo's cartoon fascinated and at
once repelled Michelangelo is first revealed in a pen-and-ink draw-
ing of his in Oxford, on which mother and grandmother are seated
together in equal grace, while their heads are farther apart, allow-
ing the figure of St. Anne to emerge with greater emphasis. But
then his penchant for rivalry is unmistakably manifested in his
Madonna Doni, in the Uffizi, a painting of the artfully entwined
Second so;ourn in Florence 173
Holy Family, the only oil painting he ever did. Michelangelo de-

spised and almost loathed the oil technique, which he was fond of
calling an art for women and children.
The picture had been commissioned by the wealthy Florentine
merchant Angelo Dani, reputedly a miser. Vasari's second edition
relates (although this cannot be vouched for) that Dani tried to
haggle over the agreed fee, with the result that the injured master
doubled the price. Condivi, who drew on Michelangelo directly,
simply says the painting brought seventy florins.
The very fact that Michelangelo, then overwhelmed with com-
missions, failed to refuse this one, which necessitated interrupting
his many unfinished projects in sculpture, becomes plausible only
on the premise that he accepted the picture as a challenge to wrest
the crown from a rival.
Set in a broad, circular, heavily ornamented frame, the paint-
ing deals with a popular theme-the mother's joy on the return of
her child. Yet this pleasure, so alien to Michelangelo's nature,
finds no clear, let alone compelling expression in the features of
the Madonna. The artist seems to have been concerned solely with
organizing the group expertly. It is invested with a sense of anima-
tion by the Madonna's beautifully shaped, outstretched arm, cut-
ting across her body. But Michelangelo did not succeed in rising
above Leonardo's special virtues of yielding grace and warmth.
His picture is cold.
The work has the effect of a relief. Since the pyramidal ar-
rangement of the main figures does not fill the circle, the artist has
peopled the space to either side. There is first of all the little St.
John, already garbed in camel's hair, looking up tenderly and tak-
ing leave of the Holy Family to withdraw into his wilderness, a
small fellow on the verge of tears and altogether more soulful than
the trinity that dominates the picture. Then there are small groups
of nude young men, two on one side, three on the other, seated
Even this is not a proper oil painting. It is partly painted in pure tempera, and
partly with emulsions of tempera with resin and oil.
i74 Michelangelo
on blocks of stone in the treeless landscape or preparing for ath-
letic contest. Their extraordinary beauty and freshness foreshadow
the hosts of ignudi that were to begin populating the Sistine
ceiling some four years later.


Another year was to elapse before Michelangelo again al-

lowed himself to become involved in a serious rivalry with Leo-
nardo. But of two beautiful Madonna reliefs from the years i504-
1505 one reveals, in its grace and splendor, that the crusty young
artist had been touched by a ray of light from the spirit of Leo-
nardo with its intoxication with beauty, by a hint of the gentle
smile that marks Leonardo's women.
It is a sizable round relief, executed for Taddeo Taddei and
now in the Royal Academy, London. The Madonna sits relaxed, in
profile, her head inclined upon a slender, finely modeled neck, her
hair entirely covered by a kerchief. She faces the little St. John,
who brings her son a goldfinch. The Christ child, startled at the
fluttering bird that seeks to escape confinement, flees to his
mother's lap, tripping over her left leg.
The scene might mean no more than a reflection of the artist
in an idyllic, playful mood but for the Madonna's beautifully re-
mote profile with its sublime and dreamlike quality hinting that
her thoughts are elsewhere. She looks at St. John, but does not
see him, any more than she does her frightened son, whom she
fails to clasp in her lap. She is part of a loftier world, the true
world of Michelangelo. Yet the playful figures of the children
show that among the artist's imperfectly developed potentialities
the light touch was not missing.
Dating from the same or possibly the following year is the
Madonna tondo he did for Bartolommeo Pitti, now in the Museo
Second Sojourn in Florence 175
Nazionale in Florence. In a quite different way, it marks the main
line of Michelangelo's actual development. He had been set the
modest task of doing a Madonna for the home of a citizen. He
invested it with a sense of lofty power, though the relief is no
larger than his Battle of the Centaurs.
Seated on a stone much lower than in the Madonna of the
Stairs, its forward edge projecting toward the beholder, the figure
of this Madonna almost crouches. Yet she breathes sublimity and
power, despite her youth. Her features, seen full face, bear the
lonely, prophetic expression of a sibyl. In her lap lies a book. Her
reading has apparently been interrupted, for the Christ child has
placed his elbow, supporting his great, grave head, squarely on
the book. The little St. John approaches and peers over her right
shoulder. None of the three looks at another. They seem scarcely
to belong together, even though the Madonna holds her son with
one hand under his armpit.
Not only is she the main figure; but Michelangelo has con-
centrated in her all his sense of nobility. Wound about her brow
is a broad royal band ornamented with an angel's head with
wings spread wide. As usual, she also wears a kerchief. To under-
line her dominance, Michelangelo has employed a simple device
to unique effect. He has given the upper edge of the marble disk,
which measures only thirty-three inches in diameter, a concavity
to set off the relief. Note well, however, that this circular rim
cannot contain the proud, tragic head of the Madonna, which
breaks through and rises above it. By this inspired yet simple
artifice Michelangelo conveys a feeling that the Madonna's sub-
lime inner life cannot be confined by everyday limitations, but
heedlessly and unconsciously bursts them.
Neither of these two reliefs is finished. So incomplete is the
state of the relief in the Royal Academy that the foot of the Christ
child has not yet emerged from the stone and the hand of St. John
holding the bird is scarcely indicated, while the unfinished state of
the relief in the Bargello, also beyond question, cannot be said to
detract from the total effect. Against the view of many modern
176 Michelangelo
connoisseurs, this conspicuous peculiarity is not born of an in-
tent to heighten the effect by avoiding the ultimate polish of per-
fection. Such a thought was quite foreign to Michelangelo. Like
Leonardo, who also finished virtually nothing, the great artist
never worked when he was not in the mood. Another reason was
that both took on too many commissions at once to be able to
finish any one of them.
Michelangelo never purposely left a work unfinished, unless he
had accidentally spoiled it. When his mood was sustained and he
had enough time, he would go all the way to the final polish. But
he was overwhelmed with work and his mind was ever restless
and tempestuous. Time and again one project would crowd out
another. Like Leonardo, he saw a multitude of inner visions, heard
inner voices whenever his contemporaries challenged him.


While he was still working on his David, Michelangelo signed

a contract in which he undertook to supply twelve overlifesize
Apostles of Carrara marble for the cathedral of Florence over a
period of twelve years. He was to receive two gold florins a month
for this work, as well as full reimbursement for the marble and
for journeys to Carrara. The instrument was signed on April 24,
We know that nothing came of the plan. When Michelangelo
followed the call of Julius II and again went to Rome, the con-
tract was canceled in December of that year. The sole reminder
of this grandiose project is Michelangelo's St. Matthew, only half-
liberated from the marble. The vigorous power of this figure exerts
an unfailing fascination.
Looking at this unfinished work, the beholder can almost
Second Sojourn in Florence 177
watch Michelangelo at work. He can see that the sculptor ham-
mered with his left hand-which he did invariably when he had
to render heavy blows to the stone. The statue weaves its spell
through its hints of pathos, interests through the extreme contor-
tion of the body ( contrapposto).
The upper part is seen from the front, the head turned into
profile over the lowered right shoulder, as though with a single
sharp motion. Yet the left hip is advanced, and the left thigh,
which is nearest completion, with the knee projecting farthest
from the stone, dominates the work with its perfection. The fea-
tures are marked by an expression of profound gravity.
All these traits are reminiscent of the Heroic Captive, which he
carved about ten years later. They also show the thoroughness
with which Michelangelo, during his Roman sojourn, must have
studied one of the few ancient works then accessible in the open.
For they all recur in the Menelaus statue, dubbed Pasquino, ex-
cavated and installed in Rome in the year i501 by Cardinal Oliver
Caraffa. One senses, however, that, quickly as Michelangelo mas-
tered the ancient grandeur of form and concentration of attitude,
he was never able to equal the overwhelming simplicity of an-
What is crucial in Michelangelo's unfinished statue is the break
it signifies with the tradition of Christian art hitherto observed.
For the first time a figure aiming at monumentality is shown at a
fleeting moment, moving from a state of rest under the influence
of a sudden notion.
The idea behind the statue must have been that St. Matthew
is responding to a call. Michelangelo is exploiting the element of
faith, hinted at in the New Testament, to characterize his figure.
"And he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed
him." Matthew leaves his post at the receipt of custom and follows
the call. Justi has shrewdly observed that the marble stood in
Michelangelo's workshop when the message came from Julius II,
inviting him to come to Rome. Michelangelo too followed the
178 Michelangelo
call. He too left everything behind-his two marble reliefs, his
plans for St. Matthew and the other apostles, the great cartoon in
the Palazzo Vecchio, and set out on his pilgrimage.


When Leonardo returned to Florence in March i503 from his

inspection of Cesare Borgia's strongholds, Fiero Soderini wished
to harness the artist's great talents to the beautification of the city,
of which he was gonfaloniere. He proposed that Leonardo do a
mural for the Sala del Gran Consiglio in the city hall of Florence,
the Palazzo Vecchio. The great artist liked and accepted the chal-
lenge. In February i504 he embarked on his cartoon for the
Battle of Anghiari, which Florence had won in i440 against the
Milanese condottiere, Piccinino.
The gonfaloniere, with an eye for the genius of Michelangelo
as well as Leonardo, proposed on August i4, i504 that Michel-
angelo provide a companion piece to Leonardo's painting-as
Condivi puts it: a concorrenza di Lionardo. A fee of 3,000 florins
was held out to the younger artist, and judging from a haughty
passage in one of Michelangelo's letters to Fatucci of January
i524, he thought it was already half in his pocket at the outset
( che mi parevon mezzi guadagnati). A hall in the Hospice of the
Dyers, the Spedale di San Onofrio, was assigned to him as a studio,
while Leonardo worked in the Sala del Papa of Santa Maria
Novella, where the authorities had given him work space.
Leonardo was then fifty-two years old, Michelangelo twenty-
nine. The one was a master, still questing in all fields, the other
still a beginner, despite his early triumphs. Their paths had al-
ready crossed, though but inwardly, in Michelangelo's mind, when
Leonardo's cartoon of St. Anne aroused his rival ambitions. Now
the competition was no longer covert and clandestine, but sharply
Second Sojourn in Florence i79
in the limelight, encouraged by the highest authorities of the city
both of them called home, though neither had been born in
Florence proper.
The challenge was friendly, the competition honorable and
peaceful, and both put forward their best efforts from the outset.
And then, as though by agreement, both men dropped the work.
Only Leonardo's painting got beyond the cartoon stage, but it
has disappeared. Even the two cartoons themselves are lost, vic-
tims of misadventure.


Seldom in history have two such towering figures faced each

other as rivals. Each was great enough to know no peer. One looks
on them as on Plato and Aristotle in Raphael's School of Athens-
only that Leonardo, actually the elder, is more like Aristotle, while
Michelangelo, the younger, resembles Plato.
For the world of Platonic ideas had dominated the high so-
ciety of Florence, its aristocratic, humanistically indoctrinated
circles, during Michelangelo's formative years. That these views
are reflected in his poems is of lesser significance, for it was not
in poetry that Michelangelo's talents found their most perfect ex-
pression. His aversion to portraiture, his predilection for the
typically human reveal a basic agreement with the Platonic ap-
proach, expressed further in Michelangelo's figures, which follow
ideas and not nature. The entire intellectual life of Florence to-
ward the end of the fourteenth century was under the sign of
Despite a loving and rational upbringing, Leonardo had not
flourished in Florence. His illegitimate birth had done his child-
hood no harm. His mother, the lusty peasant girl from Vinci, had
swiftly vanished from his life, marrying a man of her own estate
i8o Michelangelo
and being supplanted by that estimable stepmother, the young
lady with whom his father, a respected notary who had adopted
him, contracted matrimony shortly after his birth. When his
father, upon the death of this stepmother, married a second time,
Leonardo felt superfluous at home and was desirous to leave.
In Milan, where he was drawn to the court of Ludovico il
Moro, and where he later executed the collossal equestrian statue
of Francesco Sforza-a glorification of the individual which demo-
cratic envy would have made impossible in Florence-a practical
orientation prevailed, a striving for knowing and transforming
reality, which may be properly designated as Aristotelian rather
than Platonic. It is instructive that the name of Plato occurs but
once in Leonardo's five thousand manuscript pages, and on that
occasion in a geometrical context, whereas he constantly cites

Leonardo's life was not solely devoted to the cultivation of
art, but was spent in practical activities, scientific experiments
and the observation of nature. In Milan he began the construction
of canals equipped with ingenious locks of his own design. To-
ward the end of his life he proposed to Francis I the ~onstruction
of a canal to join the rivers Saulclre and Morantin and to serve
irrigation as well as navigation.
He invented one machine after another, not merely numerous
war devices, which can scarcely have been very practical, since
otherwise they would have rendered II Moro invincible, but
countless appliances for peaceful purposes, from modest ones to
serve everyday needs to highly ambitious ones. They included an
ingenious pedometer, a rolling mill for iron, machines for making
cylinders, files, saws and drills, for cutting cloth, for planing and
Second So;ourn in Florence 181

carding, a mechanical wine press, a goldbeater's hammer, a ditch-

digger, a wind-driven plow, a machine for drilling into the earth, a
wheel for powering ships.
He was not only the first to invent the screw propeller and to
use a screw on a moving axle as a motor, but thought of using it in
flight, built small paper models with thin steel propellers that
could steer themselves. He invented a device for measuring the
density of air.
He was forever occupied with building different types of
aircraft. He wrote a study on the flight of birds, constructed wings,
flying chairs, gondolas for airships. He invented the parachute.
"If a man have a tent of stiffened canvas," he writes, "twelve ells
wide and twelve ells long, he can plunge down from any height
without fear."
Heat radiation is the object of his inquiries. He notes that rays
passing through a glass globe filled with cold water are warmer
than the fire whence they come, behaving much like rays reflected
by a concave mirror.
Leonardo understood steam power before anyone else did. He
gives a careful description of a device he constructed to hurl a
ball weighing one talent a distance of six stadia.
All matters of mechanical construction came easily to him. He
took the use of iron for cogwheels, beams, levers and rolls for
granted, though it was quite rare at his time. He constantly pon-
dered on how to replace hand work with machines.
Leonardo understood before Copernicus that the earth revolves
around the sun. He discovered the law of complementary colors
before Chevreul. Before Pascal he perceived that water in two
joined pipes always maintains the same level, whatever the form
of the vessels. He studied cloud formation. Before the invention
of telescopes, he recommended that eye glasses be made for see-
ing the moon larger (fa occhiali da vedere la luna grande). He
was a passionate student of optics. He delved into the peculiarities
of mirrors. He invented the camera obscura and explained its
i82 Michelangelo
property of inverting images. He studied the nature of magnets.
He invented the diving bell, but was reluctant to publish this in-
vention, for fear, he said, that it might be used to commit murder
under water.
He studied acoustics as he did optics. He had a vague notion of
radio communications, asserting that if holes were bored into the
earth at two distant points, the human voice could be heard over
great distances.
He grasped the function of the heart and the circulation of
the blood before anyone else did. He immersed himself into bot-
any, found the rules by which leaves are arranged about a stalk
and tested the effects of poisons on plants. Numerous drawings of
plants from his hand, testify to his love of plant life.
He had insight into geology before anyone else. He protested
that 5,288 years, given by the theologians of his time as the age of
the earth, were not long enough. The banks of the Po, he insisted,
showed alluvial deposits that would have required at least
200,000 years to accumulate. His geological studies led him to
voice cautious doubt that there could have been anything like a
general deluge.
Seventy years before Bernard Palissy, founder of ceramics,
who is regarded in France as the creator of geology, Leonardo
laid the foundations of that science. Pondering the marine shells
found high up in the mountains, he says: "These shells cannot
have been carried there by the Deluge. They are all found at the
same level, even though the mountain peaks are often still higher.
If one believes that these molluscs, ordinarily found near the sea
coast, began to move when the oceans swelled, then forty days
of rain would not have been enough for these slow-moving crea-
tures to traverse the distance of two hundred fifty miles from
the Adriatic coast to Montferrat." He grasped that these shells had
been deposited on the mountains by waters that had run off-
something Voltaire failed to understand two-and-a-half centuries
Second Sojourn in Florence i83
Leonardo declared, further, that the reflex movements of the
limbs originated in the spinal cord rather than the brain. Like
Michelangelo after him, he was a devoted anatomist. He had no
patience with artists who, in revulsion before flayed and decom-
posing cadavers, shrank from obtaining insight into the structure
and true character of the human body. Unlike Michelangelo, he
concentrated on the influence of the emotions on the organs rather
than on the interplay of muscles.
Nor did he limit his biological studies to man. He surveyed the
manifold life of plants and animals, distinguished vertebrates
from invertebrates-those who had their skeleton inside, as he
put it, from those who carried it outside.
Universal as he was, he strove to grasp the very essence of life.
He found the source of life in movement ( il moto causa ogni a
vita) and here as in so many other areas anticipated the future.
Among the many astonishing aspects of his genius is the fact
that he left his manuscripts unpublished, indeed, made them dif-
ficult of access by employing mirror-writing, from right to left. He
seems to have been entirely free of scientific ambition, for he al-
lowed no one even to see his manuscripts.
This constitutes but a superficial similarity to Michelangelo,
who also locked his studio, would have none watch him at work
and long kept his cartoon, for example, concealed from those who
wished to make drawings after it. Leonardo's secrecy was dif-
ferent in character. Initially it seems to have had two motives-
first, fear that others might steal his ideas; and second, fear that
his views might draw charges and persecution on the grounds of
heresy. But these motives are not adequate. Even during his de-
velopment from youthful self-assertion to sovereign mastery of
art coupled with a passion for research, there was imbedded deep
in Leonardo's character a profound indifference to the judgment
of his contemporaries. Growing more and more marked, it was
fostered by the sense of loneliness peculiar to great geniuses-
and here he and Michelangelo are on common ground.

Leonardo never emerged in the role of scientist. He was an

engineer and he was a painter. We have seen that he spoke with a
certain deprecation of Michelangelo's proper art, work in marble,
regarding it as a mere craft ( mecanissimo). He himself had taken
on a commission in sculpture as something of a sideline, yet in its
execution he had solved one of art's most difficult problems, crea-
tion of a colossal equestrian statue, which unfortunately got only
as far as the plaster stage.
When he sought a post in Milan, Leonardo had boasted that
he could, among other things, rival anyone in sculpture, whether
in clay, marble or bronze. His statue, admired by all the world,
had shown that his self-praise was no exaggeration-even though
the difficulties of casting a 200,000-lb. statue in bronze, together
with Ludovico ii Moro's financial straits, kept the work from
proceeding beyond the model stage.
That the work fell victim to a mob of unruly soldiers is
an incalculable loss to art lovers. In token of his stoicism and his
customary indifference to his reputation, Leonardo, who notes
down so many fleeting notions in his manuscripts, devotes not a
single word to the destruction of his work, which cost him fully
seventeen years.
Leonardo is known to have been a master horseman and knew
the nature and anatomy of the horse as no other artist did. Yet
following his custom he tackled the work only after new and ex-
haustive studies on the character of the horse.
Michelangelo himself never saw the equestrian statue in
Milan; but the paeans of praise for it are certain to have irked him
deeply. Judging from the designs for it in diverse small-scale
drawings, the statue breathed a fiery spirit in its three-dimensional
Second So;ourn in Florence i85
presence. Many Florentines had seen it, and they were singularly
impressed with Leonardo's knowledge of horses and his talent for
representing them. In this field Michelangelo could have scarcely
thought of taking up the challenge of the elder artist, even though
he may have been briefly disposed to do so.
As we know, nothing has survived of Leonardo's cartoon for
the Battle of Anghiari but a few sketches and Rubens' drawing of
the main group that occupied the center. Leonardo saw the battle
as a hot skirmish among two mounted troops, reaching its climax
in a struggle for the flag. His approach may be gleaned from his
description of battle in his Treatise on Painting. Earlier times had
known only battles between the hired armies of two condottieri,
which sought to inflict as little damage on each other as possible,
capturing instead the largest number of wealthy officers, so that
substantial ransom would be paid. The invasions of the French
kings, however, had brought a taste of the atrocities of modem
Leonardo was by no means an admirer of war, which to him
was mass murder and as such an outgrowth of bestial madness
( pazzia bestialissima). But war as an artistic theme did fascinate
him. Coolly, but not without a certain contempt for bestiality, he
enumerates its features: The writhing death throes of the
wounded, the coup de grace, footprints marked in blood, broken
shields, the ground littered with spears and swords, the red glare
of fires, powder smoke whirling through the air, projectiles sailing
through the air like little clouds, the sinister gloom into which
figures vanish, dark shadows against a light background.
In his Treatise he dwells on horses leaping over mounds of
bodies, discusses them at length. So prominent were they in his
painting that Francesco Albertini, in his M emoriale ( 1510), calls
the cartoon simply Leonardo's Horses. In his Treatise Leonardo
speaks of horses that drag along their dead riders, that fight
against the current of the rivers, that run away, trampling down
and breaking through everything. He speaks of horsemen fighting
for the flag-just as he drew it-with horse and rider becoming a
186 Mich elangelo
single unit, like a Centaur, the horses becoming so infected with
ferocity that they sink their teeth into one another. And finally,
he describes the leaders of the reserves, cautiously moving up.
(Come si deve figurar una battaglia, in the Trattato della Pittura,
Book II.) 0


One can imagine with what feelings Michelangelo regarded

Leonardo's cartoon, when it was displayed for public inspection.
The purely pictorial elements did not greatly interest him, the
facial expressions scarcely more. It was part and parcel of Leo-
nardo's doctrine that no figure was commendable unless it ex-
pressed its inner state of mind. His main emphasis was on elo-
quence of features. To Michelangelo, on the other hand, the heart
of the matter was not the mien but the movements of the body.
What spurred him to effort was the wild agitation of the mounted
group in Leonardo's much-admired cartoon.
He did not dream of tackling the task from the pictorial aspect,
as had Leonardo. Leonardo the painter was content to represent a
group which, in the heat of battle, had become locked in an in-
extricable snarl. From this focus the mounted host divided, and
each scene, indeed, each individual horseman, received his own
peculiar physiognomy. Michelangelo the sculptor was tempted to
use the battle theme as a pretext for showing a throng of nude
men, each of them in vehement and characteristic motion, the
whole group taken by surprise when a signal reports the enemy's
approach, hastily pulling on garments and reaching for arms.
Michelangelo could not envision competing with Leonardo in
0 The best editions, for an English reader, of Leonardo's writings are: Treatise on

Painting, translated and annotated by A. Philip McMahon, Princeton, i956 ( 2

vols.); and T he Literary W orks of Leonardo da Vinci, edited by J. P. Richter,
second edition, London, i 939 ( 2 vols.) .
Second Sojourn in Florence 187
the latter's special province, picturesque confusion and effect. He
wished to conquer Leonardo on his own field, his capacity, as yet
undemonstrated, for plastic representation of every conceivable
attitude and contortion which the human body is capable of as-
Requested to glorify the martial deeds of the Florentines,
Michelangelo officially chose the Battle of Cascina, an ancient
clash with Pisa which had taken place on July 31, 1364. In its time
the victory had signified liberation from a dangerous threat. Re-
furbishing its memory was all the more appropriate since in 1494
the Pisans had once again defected and had to be forced anew to
acknowledge Florentine sovereignty.
In those days Pisa had recruited a band of English mercen-
aries, the so-called Compagnia Bianca, whose condottiere, John
Hawkwood, had trained his men in the French war, but had no
employment for them now, after the Peace of Bretigny. He had
planned to take the Florentine camp by surprise. But a vigilant
soldier named Manno Donati had foiled the attack.
Michelangelo probably picked Manno Donati as the main fig-
ure in his painting. The day before the battle, Donati, crying out
"We are lost!" had created a false alarm, in order to accustom his
men to presence of mind. Italian chronicles relate that on the day
of the battle the soldiers had scattered in the hot July weather to
bathe in the Amo and that Hawkwood took advantage of this
carelessness for his attack. But since the Florentine soldiers had
been trained for surprise attack only the day before, they armed
themselves in the greatest haste.
Thus, while Leonardo seized the occasion to represent a ficti-
tious battle for the Hag in such a way as to show the full passions
of war and atrocity unleashed, Michelangelo was content to show
a mere episode. Rather than witnessing a heroic passage at arms,
the beholders saw a group of men swiftly dressing and arming
themselves after a swim.
Michelangelo's contemporaries did not by any means regard
this solution as unsatisfactory. When the cartoon was finished and
i88 Michelangelo
displayed in the Sala del Gran Consiglio, it drew huge crowds and
the issue was, in the words of the artist's biographer, for the gran-
dissima gloria di Michelangelo. This is scarcely surprising, for his
technical skill gripped the art experts of his time no less than
Leonardo's display of poetic fantasy and pictorial genius.
With Leonardo the raging battle reaches its climax in the
whirling movement preserved for us in Rubens' drawing. In
Michelangelo's cartoon the sculptor asserts himself. Each figure is
a small unit on its own, fully modeled and shaped-indeed, each
individual muscle has been thoroughly studied, though this elab-
oration of detail in each figure does not detract from the total
impression. The figures stand out in sharp outline, as though
drawn with a single stroke.
Proceeding from the idea of masses in movement, Michel-
angelo soon came round to sculptural modeling of the various
figures, all of which lie in the same plane, as though on a relief.
In contrast to the massed figures in his later paintings of the
serpent of brass or the deluge in the Sistine Chapel, the many in-
terrelated figures were here seen with the eyes of a sculptor rather
than of a painter. The cartoon marks Michelangelo's transition
from sculpture to painting. Not until he deals with the crowds on
the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel does his treatment become truly
pictorial rather than sculptural.


In Michelangelo's development the cartoon for the Battle of

Cascina marks the close of an epoch. It has been called the water-
shed, the dividing line between his first style and his second.
In any event, no work of the master, not yet thirty, had created
such a furor among the artists and connoisseurs of the time. The
press of people seeking to view this masterfully drawn cartoon was
Second Sojourn in Florence 189

extraordinary. It was not yet finished when Michelangelo in 1505

followed the call to Rome from Julius II, which had reached him
through Giuliano da San Gallo. When he fled Rome the following
year in a bitter rage, because he had been scornfully turned away
at the Vatican one day upon calling to demand the money needed
to execute the tomb, and briefly returned to Florence, he used the
half-year until he was reconciled with the pope to finish his car-
For years Italian and foreign artists made pilgrimages to the
Sala del Papa in the church of Santa Maria Novella to study and
copy it. Among those who came at once Vasari mentions Aristotile
da San Gallo, Ridolfo del Ghirlandajo, Raphael, Francesco Gra-
nacci, Baccio Bandinelli and finally a Spaniard, Alonso Berruguete.
Later there were Andrea del Sarto, Franciabigio, Jacopo Sanso-
vino, Rosso, Niccolo Triboli, Jacopo Pontormo and Perino del
Among all of these the young Raphael holds the greatest in-
terest for us. In the winter of 1504-05 he had only just come from
his quiet Urbino to Florence, where he heard no name mentioned
more often than that of Michelangelo, whose David had been
recently installed in the Piazza della Signoria. In the home of
Taddeo Taddei, where Raphael was a guest, stood the Madonna
relief with the Christ child startled by the goldfinch in the hand
of little St. John. In the home of another patron, Angelo Doni,
who had commissioned Raphael to paint his wife, the young
painter saw Michelangelo's magnificent Madonna Doni, now in
the Uffizi. He began instantly to make his own everything that
Michelangelo could offer him, as his Madonnas of this period
An aura of awe emanated from the person of Michelangelo,
and Raphael almost certainly never sought him out. But the hand-
some youth was reverently and sincerely intent upon learning all
he could from the great master's riches as he sat among the artists
from hither and yon, attentively drawing from the cartoon.
This cartoon, then, destined to perish so completely that not
190 Michelangelo
one scrap of it has survived, became the model for a whole genera-
tion of art students, indeed, for the whole Mannerist school. This
was retribution of a kind, as Justi has said. Intended by the au-
thorities to kindle the patriotic spirit of Florence, the commission
had been taken on by Michelangelo primarily to satisfy his am-
bition in competing with a hated rival. The picture became no
more than a coruscating display of the skill at his command.
Nor can one altogether quarrel with Symonds' bold assertion
that the cartoon's virtuosity and dazzling technique, underlying
its undeniable power and sincerity, contributed much to the de-
cline of Italian art-in token of which Symonds cites Cellini, who
put the cartoon above the masterpiece of the Sistine ceiling. Like
many of his contemporaries, Cellini was more enthralled by the
sheer technical facility in Michelangelo's art than by its inner-
most essence.


The while Michelangelo was finishing his cartoon, Leonardo

was engaged in applying his design al fresco. In vain he tried-
with the aid of a passage in Pliny-to fathom the secret of how
the ancients had prepared their wax pigments. His paints blistered
off the wall. He lost heart and abandoned the undertaking. Not a
trace of it is left.
Leonardo must have known of Michelangelo's hostility toward
him. But while the young Raphael did not muster the courage to
seek the acquaintance of the terrible-tempered artist, the urbane
Leonardo, according to tradition did try to bring about a relation-
ship of mutual courtesy. Vasari confirms that the antipathy was
mutual (era sdegno grandissimo fra Michelangelo Buonarroti e
lui), and we have already convinced ourselves that Michelangelo's
character and art theories could scarcely be congenial to Leo-
Second Sojourn in Florence 191

nardo. But in so well-balanced a personality as Leonardo this did

not rule out a sincere desire to understand his opposite, to reach
a modus vivendi with him. The effort came to grief on Michel-
angelo's brusqueness.
As related by one of Michelangelo's contemporaries (Anonimo
Gaddiano, about i540), Leonardo and a friend one day, in the
Piazza Santa Trinita, passed a group of learned Florentines who
were discussing a passage in Dante. They appealed to Leonardo
to elucidate its meaning.
At that moment Michelangelo passed and was saluted by one
of the group. Leonardo remarked "There is Michelangelo-he can
explain the verses to us." Michelangelo, taken by surprise and sus-
picious and gruff as he was, thought Leonardo was making fun of
him and replied: "Explain them yourself, you who modeled a
horse but could not cast it in bronze and had to abandon the work
to your everlasting disgrace." So saying, he turned his back on the
group and moved on. As Leonardo stood frozen, flushing under
the scorn hurled at him, Michelangelo wheeled and drove home
the barb: "And those fools in Milan had faith in you!"
The anecdote has the ring of truth. The sneering words are in
character with what Michelangelo said about other great artists
of his time. What made matters worse was that his insult was
groundless, was aimed at a pointless misfortune that surely re-
flected no discredit on Leonardo. To call him incompetent was the
height of absurdity.

It was in March i505 when the call came that made Michel-
angelo depart, leaving all his work behind unfinished. He may not
have been particularly fond of the Florentines; but unlike, Leo-
nardo, who cared little about his environment, Michelangelo felt
i92 Michelangelo
himself a citizen of Florence, shared the family traditions and
prejudices of his compatriots.
He had good reason to find the call to Rome irresistible. His
demon drove him there, to the only place that offered scope to a
spirit of his ilk. His instinct told him that the man who had
mounted the papal throne in Rome was cast in his own mold,
burning with boundless passion and ambition, receptive to vast
projects, minded to understand and use him, impatient like him-
self, terribile like himself, never petty but sweeping in thought,
stronger of character and firmer of will than himself yet filled
with his own furious, soaring vigor.
One day the pope would have to see that they were meant for
each other. With his instinct for genius in every form, Julius II
was bound to conceive a singular sympathy for Michelangelo, just
as it was certain that the artist's quarrelsome and distrustful na-
ture on the one hand and the pope's intractability on the other,
his sudden abandonment of a plan that had become a matter of
life and death to the artist, were bound to provoke clashes be-
tween them. Invariably they ended in reconciliation, the ruler
showing lenience toward the artist, the artist humbly acknowl-
edging the ruler.
It was Romain Rolland who said these rueful words of Michel-
angelo: "He hated and was hated. He loved and was not loved."
They are true, by and large-to the degree that his consuming
ambition made him surly and his tireless energy lonely. But they
can scarcely be applied in the literal sense to his whole life. Rail
against the first pope he served Michelangelo did, but he surely
sensed the high esteem in which Julius held him, felt the power
and inspiration that emanated from the pope. He was eager to
dedicate the greatest works of his life to his glorification.
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 0

DESPITE HIS ASTUTENESS, Machiavelli had no grasp what-

ever of the essential nature of Julius II. His official dispatches
about the Conclave of i503 testify to his indifference toward the
newly elected pope and to his enthusiasm for Cesare Borgia. The
false rumor that the pope had had Cesare murdered was the only
thing that elicited anything akin to respect from him. And when
Machiavelli encountered Julius for the second time three years
later, on his march against Bologna, he was still utterly unmoved.
His hatred of the church rendered him incapable of understand-
The expression "the tragedy of the tomb" was first used by Con<livi in his
Michelangelo biography of i553. In our times it was used by Carl Justi ( igoo)
and almost every writer on Michelangelo-without giving credit to Condivi.

194 Michelangelo
ing that this pope was about to establish the secular power of the
papacy for centuries to come. How different Michelangelo! He
instantly grasped the essential nature of Julius, as soon as he was
face to face with him and received the first great commission from
his hands-to do the pope's tomb.
It was Giuliano da San Gallo who had called the pope's atten-
tion to Michelangelo, whom he had known ever since the days
when the half-grown youth enjoyed the favor of Lorenzo de'
Medici. At the height of his powers, Giuliano, as one of Brunel-
leschi's successors under Lorenzo, had wielded great influence in
Florence. In i489 he had provided the model for that masterpiece,
the Palazzo Strozzi, which Benedetto di Majano later built. He
had created the cloister of Santa Maria Maddalena <lei Pazzi, the
sacristy of Santo Spirito, and famous edifices elsewhere. Like the
Medici, he was a passionate collector of ancient art.
On February 28, i537, his son Francesco wrote: "My father
had Michelangelo come to Rome to get him the commission for
the tomb."
We need not be surprised that San Gallo is mentioned neither
by Vasari nor Condivi. Michelangelo was not among those who
remember their benefactors with gratitude. Yet San Gallo unques-
tionably was his benefactor, indeed, a most active one.
Giuliano had known the pope and done work for him when
he was still Cardinal Rovere, and he had fortified Rocca in Ostia
for him. During Rovere's cardinalate San Gallo had built him his
titular church, San Pietro in Vincoli, as well as the palazzo in
whose garden stood the Apollo of Belvedere. In his birth city of
Savona he had built him a second palazzo. When Rovere fled for
his life to France under Alexander VI, San Gallo had followed him
into exile. Small wonder that upon the pope's election he became
his responsible adviser in all matters of architecture and interior
By the testimony of Michelangelo's two contemporary biog-
raphers, Condivi and Vasari, several months went by until the
pope made up his mind how to employ him, surely indicating that
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 195
he had not summoned Michelangelo on his own initiative. This
makes all the more plausible the report by San Gallo's son that
Michelangelo was constantly in their home, indeed, happened to
be there when the pope commanded attendance at the Baths of
Titus, where the Laocoon had just been found.
We can trace Giuliano's concern with preventing a rupture of
the good relationship between Michelangelo and Julius. When
Michelangelo, irate over having been refused an audience, fled to
Bologna and his provocative letter to the pope threatened an irre-
parable break, it was Giuliano who wrote to Bologna and me-
diated the quarrel. Michelangelo's reply, dated May 2, i506,
shows how hurt he felt because of the treatment accorded him,
but also reveals his intimate relationship with San Gallo. The
letter proposed that he be allowed to execute the tomb in Flor-
ence rather than Rome and concludes: "Giuliano mio carissimo,
please answer me at once."
When the Pope later abandoned the tomb project, San Gallo
proposed decoration of the Sistine Chapel by way of compensa-
tion, setting the fee at fifteen thousand florins (of which Michel-
angelo only received three). And when Michelangelo, in one of
his episodes of anxiety, was close to abandoning that work, it was
again San Gallo who served as the reassuring friend.
The chances are that San Gallo with his love of domes trained
Michelangelo in architecture and also communicated to his young
friend his professional knowledge of military engineering.
As early as the reign of Pope Nicolaus V the Florentine archi-
tect Bernardo Rossellino had prepared a design for a new St.
Peter's. San Gallo seems to have spoken to the pope about this
old project, Rossellino had also added a tribune behind the choir
of old St. Peter's, on a masonry pedestal several yards high. San
Gallo seems to have suggested to the pope that it would be a fine
idea to have a princely memorial tomb reared in this eminently
suitable spot even while he was alive. He was appealing to the
new pope's most powerful instinct-his ambition.
As early as the mid-fifteenth century Leone Battista Alberti,
i96 Michelangelo
in his treatise, De re aedificatoria, had written that San Pietro in
Vaticano was leaning alarmingly to the left, and sixty years later
Sigismondo de' Conti repeated the observation. In his biography
of Nicolaus V Manetti says that pope was considering compre-
hensive reconstruction of St. Peter's.
But none heretofore had dared lay impious hand on the ven-
erable basilica built by Constantine the Great and Pope Sylvester
and hallowed by the centuries. Who would have the audacity to
tamper with the tombs of the apostle Peter and such popes as
Gregory the Great!


Evidently San Gallo managed to arouse the pope's prompt

interest in creating a grandiose mausoleum. He convinced Julius
that Michelangelo alone was the man for the job. Finally, he
pointed out Rossellino's chapel as the logical place for a monu-
ment, for which there was no other place in the crowded basilica.
Justi, who went through San Gallo's sketch books in the Bar-
beriana and in Siena, has no doubt whatever that Michelangelo's
design for the tomb was conceived in the architect's house. In-
deed, he believes it quite likely San Gallo had a hand in the mo-
tives for the projected statues, which hark back so conspicuously
to antiquity.
Assuredly Michelangelo, abruptly leaving Florence where he
had been busy on a variety of important works-the cartoon, the
twelve apostles for the cathedral, for which the marble had al-
ready been purchased-proposed to create something grandiose
and altogether unprecedented in the service of the pope-no tomb
like the two of bronze which Antonio Pollaiuolo had made in St.
Peter's for Sixtus II and Innocent VIII, but a massive array of
statuary like Hadrian's mausoleum in ancient times.
Michelangelo knew that a ring of columns had once encircled
the rotunda of this mighty sepulchre, surmounted by a host of
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb i97
statues, which had been hurled down on Alaric's Goths when they
sacked Rome in the year 410.
Why should not he, entirely on his own, be able to create such
a host of figures as the joint efforts of the artists of antiquity had
done? Some eighty statues, in size and bulk like the only ones to
be executed, the Moses in San Pietro in Vincoli and the so-called
Captives or Slaves in the Louvre, were to grace Julius' mauso-
The drawings in the Uffizi and the later, modified drawings in
Berlin allow us to form an idea of the work as Michelangelo en-
visioned it. We see that all its elements, joined and crystallized
into a single whole within his mind, harked back to ancient Ro-
man tombs, temples and triumphal arches. Everything was bor-
rowed from the monuments of antiquity as we know them-the
divisioning through pillars and niches, the sculptural themes, the
grave steles, the fettered captains and chieftains, the reliefs in
honor of the dead.
Michelangelo's design points up how his mind was pervaded
by the spirit of antiquity in a manner entirely different from Leo-
nardo. To a far higher degree is he an expression of the age we call
the Renaissance. His deepest ambitions coincided with those of
his time. He sought to reawaken what had pleased the Romans
some fifteen or sixteen centuries before rather than give new life
to what he created.
One has only to look at his proud and triumphant figures of
victory with the subjugated provinces at their feet-so Vasari calls
them in his first edition ( infiniti provincii). Later on, when Mi-
chelangelo's pagan sentiments had waned and he was anxious to
appear as having been more of a Christian in his earlier days,
Condivi maintained the statues represented the liberal arts para-
lyzed by the pope's death, an altogether implausible theory.
Surely the idea of Christian humility was the last thing either
Michelangelo or the supreme pontiff had in mind in connection
with this tomb. Niches and pillars join to proclaim the glory of a
Caesar and a Maecenas. Some, indeed, believe Giuliano della
Rovere chose the papal name of Julius precisely with the figure of
198 Michelangelo
Julius Caesar in mind. But whether the triumphant goddesses of
the niches and the shackled giants of the pillars were meant to
represent the arts and sciences in mourning or simply vanquished
enemies in impotent rage, they proclaim as with one voice that
Michelangelo saw the prince of the church as what he truly was,
a war lord reaching for the palm of victory rather than a concil-
iator offering the olive branch of peace.
In i503, during one of the pope's entrance processions into his
city, Machiavelli reported seeing tabernacles, triumphal arches
and temples wherever he looked. When Julius II returned to
Rome from his campaign against Bologna, he passed under thir-
teen truimphal arches bearing the inscription: Divo Julio, P.M.,
expulsori tyrannorum. Caesar too had been pontifex maximus.
To blend pagan elements into Christian appurtenances was
sound ecclesiastic tradition. Antonio Filarete's bronze doors for
the old basilica of St. Peter's showed the Metamorphoses of Ovid
and even Leda with the Swan, and they were simply taken over
into Bramante's new church. The very papal throne, cathedra
Petri, also brought from the old basilica to St. Peter's, bears small
ivory rectangles on back and armrests showing centaurs in battle
and the twelve deeds of Hercules.
Hence Erasmus' astonishment during his sojourn in Rome is
puzzling-in the papal chapel and in the presence of Julius II he
listened to a sermon dealing with the sacrifice of Iphigenia and
the heroic death of Marcus Curtius rather than Christ's death on
the cross. Of the pope, Erasmus wrote: "He wages war, wins vic-
tories and plays the role of Julius [Caesar] to perfection."


The strange part is that Michelangelo made the first sketch

that has come down to us at a time when the pope had not yet
won a single victory, nor conquered a single province. If we knew
no better, we would be tempted to conclude Julius had confided
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 199
his secret political plans to his sculptor, who proclaimed him victor
through the agency of twelve goddesses of victory before he had
even drawn sword. Michelangelo had seen the pope in his true
colors before anyone else, had correctly interpreted the bull of
January 10, i504, in which Julius asserted the inalienable right of
the church to all the possessions wrested from it in the course of
time and now in the hands of usurpers.
As early as i503 the pope had threatened to mobilize all the
powers of Christendom against those who had laid impious hands
on church property. Never, he declared, would he rest until he
had wiped out the shame of the church and put an end to the
dismemberment of its property. This was a point of honor, he
said; and Machiavelli, who noted down this philippic, taunted
him that if he yielded he would ever after be no more than the
"chaplain of Venice."
Michelangelo must have seen him breathe fire, heard him
thunder anathema. He did not wait for Julius to triumph in the
field, allowing the sculptor to make his tomb a historical record.
He could not have cared less. To him the allegorical figures were
merely a pretext to represent the human body, gratifying his crea-
tive and intellectual bent, his desire to walk in the footsteps of
He was in the full flush of youth. His patron may have been
the Vicar of Christ on earth, the father of all Christendom; but the
thought of his death and his tomb never for a moment aroused in
Michelangelo, any more than in the pope, sentiments of devotion,
forgiveness of sin, salvation or redemption. There is not one spark
of piety in the plan for the tomb-not a single Christian symbol,
not even a crucifix. Its sole aim was to glorify power and vitality,
conquest and victory. Michelangelo's first design for the Julius
tomb in i505 was conceived wholly in the spirit of the Roman
The statues at the upper level, ostensibly representing Moses
and Paul, action and contemplation, are seated in dignity and
thought. In the center we see a great sarcophagus, destined to
receive the body of him who was still so vigorously alive. From
:ioo Michelangelo
it proceeds the Resurrection. Manifested on either side of this
figure, hovering at the very top, are two genies, whom Vasari
describes as angels but Condivi more appropriately calls Cybele
and Cielo, earth and heaven. Cybele grieves over the loss earth
has suffered, heaven rejoices at the entry into paradise of the
Yet these details are not the main thing-Michelangelo nat-
urally reserved to himself the right to alter them as the work pro-
ceeded, the spirit moved him and the marble inspired new ideas.
What matters is the plan as a whole, a free-standing construction,
accessible on all sides, twenty-four feet wide and thirty-six deep
and almost thirty high, its lower level of twelve feet separated
from the upper by a massive projecting cornice. Every detail,
above and below, had but a single purpose-to proclaim the
grandeur and glory of the pope.


As far as we can judge from Michelangelo's sketches and from

copies of his designs, the fettered captives in the original plan
were meant to signify the pope's unconquerable power rather than
to arouse interest on their own. Yet the two finished marble Cap-
tives in the Louvre do completely hold the viewer's interest in
their own individuality, altogether apart from the larger design of
which they were originally intended to form a part. But then,
some ten years lie between the design and the execution of the
two figures in marble.
One of them has his hands bound behind his back. An expres-
sion of desperate defiance in his upward gaze, he seems about to
break the bonds that make him powerless. In this effort, the upper
part of the trunk is slightly twisted, while the left leg, on which
the weight rests, and the right leg with its projecting knee are sup-
ported against an elevation in the marble and the face with its
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 201

eloquent anger is turned toward the beholder. This slave, fettered

but still struggling against his fate, is known as the Heroic Cap-
tive, or else as the Rebellious Slave.
The other, the so-called Dying Captive, is calculated to move
the viewer's mind. His eyes are shut. His handsome young counte-
nance is pervaded by a sense of melancholy, playing on the be-
holder's compassion. The figure's attitude is odd and can be under-
stood only on the theory that the Captive is held upright by the
broad band encircling his chest. Yet if he were dead or uncon-
scious, this band could scarcely secure him, since it in turn does
not seem to be fastened to anything. In all likelihood the figure,
its swelling muscles and sinews betraying vitality, was made after
a supine model. It reminds strongly of the Niobid who lies as one
dead. So great is the similarity in the upper portion that it can
scarcely be by accident.
Michelangelo's Dying Captive is a moving masterpiece that
appeals to the emotions as do few sculptures by this ordinarily
austere and unsentimental artist. Its kinship with ancient art is pre-
cisely what here sharpens the beholder's appreciation of Michel-
angelo's own manner, the keynote of his soul, as it were. There is
something profoundly touching in the contrast between the heroic
figure's defenseless posture and the latent power of those great
Of the four unfinished later figures from the Boboli Gardens
(now in the Accademia, Florence), also representing captives,
only one, that of a bearded man, one hand raised to his head, a
strap about one leg, is sufficiently advanced to convey the in-
tended tragic effect.

Michelangelo failed in his endeavor to execute the Julius tomb
according to his original plan, to immortalize the secular triumphs
202 Michelangelo
of the Papal State. The project was never realized; and the vener-
able church that was to receive it was torn down bit by bit.
His gracious protector, Giuliano da San Gallo, ceased to domi-
nate the pope's artistic tastes. Donato Bramante, the greatest
architectural genius of the time, a native of Urbino, had come to
Rome in i499, at the age of fifty-five, having worked in Milan
before. There he had built imperishable works-the choir, transept
and dome of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the graceful dome of Ma-
donna di San Satiro. In Rome he built that admirable palazzo, la
Cancelleria, the plans for which he had sent on from Milan, and
later, in the Vatican, the Cortile di San Damasco, made famous by
Raphael's Loggie.
Julius, with his empathy for genius, soon made Bramante his
favorite architect and grew more and more used to following his
artistic counsel. Bramante shared the pope's predilection for enter-
prises in the grand manner.
As yet his and Michelangelo's paths had not crossed. Once the
pope had authorized the design for the tomb and signed the con-
tract, Michelangelo, armed with i,ooo florins, went to Carrara to
buy marble. He stayed there for eight months. In November he
entered into agreements with a company of shippers in Lavagna,
under which they were to hold themselves ready to sail thirty-
four carrats (of twenty-five hundredweights each) from Avena to
Rome, including two blocks of fifteen carrats each. In December
he signed another contract for delivery of no less than sixty car-
rats of marble, including blocks for four figures. A part of this
shipment arrived in Rome in January i506. The blocks were
stacked up in St. Peter's Square.
Michelangelo had set up his workshop in a house "behind
Santa Catarina," which Julius had given him. He had obtained
beds for his assistants, whom he had sent for from Florence. They
were no sculptors but stone masons (garzoni, scarpellini, omini di
quadro ).
In his mind's eye the monument, at this time, must have been
finished to the last detail.


Like a bolt from the blue the news reached him: the pope
wanted nothing further to do with the tomb.
Bramante, popularly known in Rome as Il Rovinante, 0 because
of his ruthless wrecking activities that were to give him room for
realizing his plans, had promised his master to erect a far greater
miracle in stone. In place of the old he wanted to build a vast new
St. Peter's, to superimpose the pagan Pantheon on the Temple of
Peace, of which a few ruined vaults were preserved in the Forum.
For some time Michelangelo had had trouble seeing the pope
or obtaining funds needed to keep and pay his assistants. On
several occasions he called in vain. Then, one day, when he
sought to speak to the pope, he was turned away by a common
groom. The youthful Cardinal Galeotto Franciotti, a nephew of
the pope and Bishop of Lucca, witnessed the rebuff with astonish-
ment and inquired whether the servant did not know Messer
Buonarroti. The man answered that he knew him well but was
under orders not to admit him.
No wonder Michelangelo, infuriated by the insult, went and
wrote the pope these lines, transmitted through the major domo,
Messer Agostino: "Holy Father: This morning I was chased from
the palace on orders of Your Holiness. Hence this is to let you
know that hereafter, if you should need me, you must look for me
elsewhere than in Rome."
Michelangelo's despair over the meaning of the incident was
second only to his wild rush of resentment. There could be no
other sense to the rebuff but that the pope was giving up a project
that meant the artist's lifework. Fully planned and zealously be-
gun, it was suddenly to be abandoned. On top of that, Michel-
0 Il Rovinante or Rooinatore-a man who sends to ruin.
204 Michelangelo
angelo, who was well aware of his own worth, had to suffer the
indignity of having the door slammed in his face by a lackey.
There was a third element, a sudden unease, begotten of the
morbid distrustfulness in his sensitive soul, now grown into a kind
of inner panic verging on delusions of persecution. What was be-
hind it all? A plot? Yes, but whose? Probably it was Bramante in
whose way he thought he stood. Manifestly this was but the open-
ing gun to things far worse. They wanted to have him out of the
way! Indeed, they were most likely after his life! There was but
one way to save honor and life-escape!
We gain the impression that Michelangelo thought Bramante
was toying with the idea of actually having him murdered. San
Gallo, who was indeed directly displaced by Bramante, never har-
bored such fears. Like Michelangelo, he undoubtedly regarded
Bramante as an intriguer; and he probably knew quite well that
Bramante was profiting illicitly by using poor materials in his
buildings. But only Michelangelo thought Bramante capable of
1 It has been said and believed that Julius II withdrew from the
f tomb project because he had been told it was an evil omen to
build one's tomb while still alive; but the pope was not one to be
so easily diverted. The plain facts of the matter are that Michel-
,, angelo's project had become homeless, because of the reconstruc-
tion of St. Peter's.


Here, then, is the explanation why Michelangelo on the one

hand fled helter-skelter from Rome to Florence and on the other
wrote as follows to San Gallo on May 2, i506:
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 205

"Giuliano, I note from your letter that the pope has taken my
departure badly and that His Holiness is ready to deposit the
funds, as agreed between us, so that I may return to Rome with-
out anxiety.
"As for my departure, it is indeed true that on the Saturday
before Easter [April 11] I heard the pope say, as he sat at table
with a jeweler and the Master of Ceremonies, he would not spend
another farthing for stones, little or big. Nevertheless, before my
departure, I asked him for part of what was my due for carrying
on the work. His Holiness replied, asking me to call again on
Monday. I did call again on Monday and on Tuesday and on
Wednesday and on Thursday, as you well know. At last, on Friday
morning, I was sent away, that is to say, thrown out-by a mis-
creant who said he knew me but was acting under orders. Since
I had heard the pope's words the preceding Saturday and now wit-
nessed their effect, I was seized by utter despair. This, however,
was not the sole reason for my departure. There was another,
! about which I do not wish to write now. Suffice it to say that it
brought on the notion that if I stayed on in Rome my own tomb
; might have to be erected before the pope's. That is why I de-
camped so suddenly."
It was on April i7, i506 that Michelangelo fled Rome. On
April i8 Julius II, in solemn ceremony, laid the cornerstone for
the new St. Peter's.
The chosen spot lies by the great pillar holding up the dome,
near the present altar of St. Veronica. A hole had been dug, some-
thing like a well, and into it the aged pope calmly descended,
calling to the crowd to stand back lest some of the heaped-up
earth be pushed down on him. A vase with coins and medals was
deposited, and on top of it a heavy piece of marble which the
pope sprinkled with holy water and blessed. That same day he
wrote to King Henry VII of England that he ''had, under the guid-
ance of Our Lord and Redeemer, begun the repair of the ancient
basilica, fallen into decay on account of its age."


Michelangelo remained in Florence no less than seven months.

He needed half a year to finish his cartoon. Meanwhile his faithful
friend San Gallo seems to have proposed to Julius that he be
assuaged with another great task, the decoration of the ceiling in
the Sistine Chapel. As we know, Michelangelo maintained in his
long autobiographical letter of i542 that Bramante and Raphael
were behind the whole quarrel between Julius II and himself. The
charge against Raphael is cut from the whole cloth, since in i506
Raphael had not even entered the papal service. There is more
substance to the possible intervention of Bramante, but Michel-
angelo's suspicion that Bramante had persuaded the pope to give
him the Sistine ceiling in the tacit expectation he would be unable
to execute the work is totally unfounded. Bramante could not
possibly be ignorant of Michelangelo's triumph with his cartoon;
and in any event, if he really hated San Gallo's protege, there,
close to him, was Raphael, whom he surely would have preferred
to receive the commission.
Unmistakable evidence against the view that Bramante was
behind the plan is provided in this letter of May 6, i506, to
Michelangelo from his close friend Cosimo Rosselli:
"While the pope sat at supper Saturday evening, I showed him
several drawings, which Bramante and I had received for ap-
praisal. When I placed them before him at the end of the meal,
the pope sent for Bramante and said: 'San Gallo leaves for Flor-
ence tomorrow to fetch back Michelangelo.' Bramante replied:
'Holy Father, it will be to no avail. I have talked much with
Michelangelo and he has often told me he does not want to under-
take the chapel you have in mind for him and that, despite your
wishes, he proposes to devote his talents solely to sculpture. He
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 207

wants nothing to do with painting.' And then he added: 'Holy

Father, I do not think he has the courage to essay the work, since
his experience in figure-painting is slight and these would lie
high above the line of sight and have to be viewed in foreshorten-
ing. That is quite a different matter from standing on the ground
and painting.'
"The Pope replied: 'If he does not come, he does me wrong;
hence I believe he will return.'
"Then I leaped up and told the man off, right in the pope's
presence, speaking as I believe you would have spoken in my
place; and he was momentarily struck dumb, as though he real-
ized how foolish he had been to express himself in this way. I said:
'Holy Father, the man has never exchanged a word with Michel-
angelo, and if what he says is true you may chop off my head; for
he never spoke with Michelangelo. Hence I am quite certain he
will return, if Your Holiness demands it.' "
A letter from Giovanni Balducci (in Gotti's collection, volume
II) shows that Michelangelo's friends in Rome asked him to re-
turn soon, being of the opinion he was risking fortune and reputa-
tion by his stubborn refusal. Michelangelo, however, had no faith
in the pope's good will. In his long letter of 1542 he maintains the
pope sent three letters to the Signoria in Florence to get him back,
and that the Florentine government ultimately let him know it
could not risk a war with Julius II on his account.
Condivi's report goes into greater detail. Not until the third
letter had been received did Piero Soderini, head of the Florentine
government, tell Michelangelo he had provoked a quarrel with the
pope such as not even the king of France would have dared start;
and then followed the sentence to the effect that Florence could
not on that account risk war.
Next, as Michelangelo likewise told Condivi, he thought of
entering the service of the Sultan. He was to build a bridge from
Constantinople to Pera and execute other great projects. The gon-
faloniere advised Michelangelo against accepting the offer, using
0 Aurelio Cotti, Vita di Michelangelo, 2 vols., Florence, i876.
208 Michelangelo
these strong words: Better to die in the service of the pope than
to live in Turkey. The pope was at heart well-disposed toward
him, and if Michelangelo still felt disquiet, he could return with
the title of ambassador. His person would then be inviolable.
Only one letter from Pope Julius to the Signoria has come down
to us, and it could scarcely be more calm and compassionate.
Dated in Rome, July 8, 1506, it includes this passage:
"The sculptor Michelangelo, who left us without reason, fears
to return, we hear, though on our part we hold no anger against
him, well knowing the whims of men of talent. That he may relin-
quish all apprehension, we trust in your convincing him loyally in
our name that in the event of his return no harm nor injury shall
come to him and that our apostolic favor shall be his as it was
A few days later Soderini was constrained to reply to the Pope:
"Michelangelo the sculptor is so terrified that it will be necessary,
despite the assurances of Your Holiness, to have the Cardinal of
Pavia write us a hand-signed letter, pledging his safety and liberty.
We have done and will do all in our power to persuade him to
return and we desire to assure Your Holiness that, in the event he
is not well treated [in Rome], he would also leave Florence [and
move to Turkey], as he has already twice threatened to do."
This letter was followed by another, addressed to the Cardinal
of Volterra on July 28, in which Soderini repeated that Michel-
angelo refused to stir unless he received an unconditional safe-
By August the artist's resistance seems to have been overcome.
On August 31 the Signoria wrote to the Cardinal of Pavia: "Mi-
chelangelo the sculptor, citizen of Florence and by us highly
esteemed, will present this letter, having at last convinced himself
that he may place his faitl1 in His Holiness." Michelangelo, the
letter adds, will arrive in good spirits and of good will.
Something must have supervened to rekindle Michelangelo's
anxiety, for the letter of state was never delivered and there is
no further mention of negotiations until late November. It has
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 209

been assumed, rightly no doubt, that when Michelangelo heard of

the pope's military undertakings against Perugia and Bologna, he
realized he would not be missed in the circumstances.
On November 21 the Cardinal of Pavia sent a letter to the
Signoria from Bologna, imploring it to send Michelangelo there at
once, since the pope was impatient to see him and wanted to em-
ploy him on important work.
On November 27, finally, Soderini wrote the letter to the Car-
dinal of Volterra that was to put an end to the quarrel and dis-
affection. "Bearer of this," it begins, "is Michelangelo the sculptor,
whom we have dispatched thither to please and satisfy His Holi-
ness. We betoken that he is an estimable young man, without a
peer in his art in Italy and perhaps the world. We cannot com-
mend him too strongly. Such is his nature that all may be gained
of him, if one but speak kindly to him and show him friendliness.
Given love and fair treatment, he will do things to astonish the
whole world."
Soderini emphasized he was doing the pope a great favor in
leaving Michelangelo to him, since thereby the mural of the Battle
of Cascina would never be executed.


The pope's campaign began in a manner calculated to inspire

respect of his irresistible power. When he marched against Peru-
gia, Gianpaolo Baglioni, its bloody and ruthless tyrant who had
murdered his own kin, lost heart. He rode out to meet the pope
at Orvieto and then rode by his side to Perugia, knowing full well
that Julius came only to take his power from him.
Approaching Imola beyond the Apennines, the pope learned
that the king of France had sent him six hundred horse and three
thousand foot in support, causing the Bentivogli to Hee in terror
210 Michelangelo
from Bologna to Milan. On November 11 the Holy Father held his
triumphal entry into Bologna and ten days later was dispatched
the request to Michelangelo to meet him there.
As the artist arrived in the morning and went to attend mass
in San Petronio, the pope's servants discovered him at once and
led him into the presence of the Holy Father who (according to
Condivi) was sitting at table in the Palace of the Sixteen. As soon
as the pope laid eyes on Michelangelo he said crossly: "It was
your duty to come and seek us out, yet you waited until we came
and sought you out." What he meant was that Bologna was half-
way to Florence.
Michelangelo knelt to beg forgiveness and cited in extenuation
that he had not wilfully erred but had acted only upon being un-
expectedly shown the door. The pope sat with lowered head, with-
out making reply. A monsignor who felt called upon to help bring
about a reconciliation sought to intervene and said: "Your Holi-
ness must be indulgent with the man's foibles. They stem from
ignorance. The artists are all like that when they venture beyond
their field." The pope flew into a rage and exclaimed: "It is you
who mock him, not we! It is you who are ignorant and insolent,
not he. Get away from me, go to the devil!" When the prelate
stood his ground, servants drove him off with cuffs and blows.
Evidently the scene gave Michelangelo the satisfaction for which
he had yearned.
Having vented his spleen on the hapless bishop, the pope took
the artist aside and forgave him. Soon afterward he told him: "I
want you to make a great portrait study of me to place on the
fa9ade of San Petronio." No sooner had he returned to Rome than
he transferred a thousand florins for the purpose to the bank of
Messer Antonmaria da Lignano.
Michelangelo began to model the statue in clay. Doubtful of
what the pope wished to do with his left hand, he asked Julius
who had come to inspect the work whether he would like to se
himself holding a book in his left hand. "What? A book?" the pop

The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 211

replied. "A sword! I'm not one for book learning." And jestingly
he inquired about the right hand, which Michelangelo had caught
in a vehement gesture: "Is your statue giving a blessing or a
curse?" "It threatens, Holy Father," the artist replied. "It threatens
those who do not obey."
Messer Bernardino, maestro d'artigleria (chief gun founder)
to the Signoria of Florence, was to cast the statue; but the first
attempt miscarried, only the lower half of the mold, up to the
belt line, being filled with bronze, the remainder of which cooled
down and stuck in the furnace-an incident which may have
taught Michelangelo how unfair he had been to Leonardo, when
he mocked him for a failure in casting.
Asked at the time by the pope how much the statue would
cost, Michelangelo had replied: "I think I can do it for a thousand
florins"; and Julius had said: "Proceed with the work! Cast it again
and again, until you succeed, and I shall give you enough for you
to be satisfied."
In a letter to his friend Gianfrancesco Fattucci Michelangelo
later wrote: "I cast the statue twice, and after spending two years
on the work in Bologna I found I had four-and-a-half florins left
over. For my work I got nothing. I had paid out the whole thou-
sand florins."
The statue was almost three times lifesize. Some ten feet high,
it showed the pope seated. On February 21, i508, it was hoisted
to a pediment above the center portal of San Petronio.
It was meant to show the pope as the founder of the Papal
State, the recreator of papal power, the victor over Italy's petty
despots. It was the only true portrait Michelangelo ever executed
-and no trace of it survives.
When the Bentivogli returned to Bologna in i511, the statue
was hurled from its vantage place. Alfonso I of Ferrara bought it
for his cannon foundry and had a gun made from it, which was
mockingly dubbed La Giulia and used in his war against Papa

From Bologna Michelangelo went to Florence, whence he was

commanded by the pope to come to Rome. He arrived there in
March or April 1508. Soon afterward the pope confirmed his deci-
sion to suspend work on the tomb. Despite his reluctance, Michel-
angelo was to take on the ceiling decorations in the Sistine Chapel.
This work is a great chapter on its own in the life of the artist.
Here we wish first to present a connected narrative of the tragedy
of the Julius tomb, which extends from the days of Michelangelo's
young manhood into his old age ( 1505-45).
Julius II had withdrawn the commission for his tomb while he
lived, but in his will he renewed it. He died on February 21, 1513,
and was followed by Leo X on March 11. On May 6 Michel-
angelo's contract with the executors was signed. Julius' will had
provided for a more modest tomb, but his heirs seem to have de-
sired one more substantial, else they would not have offered the
large sum of 16,500 scudi-against which, however, the 3,500 paid
before were to be credited. Lorenzo Grosso della Rovere and
Lorenzo Pucci, whom Leo made a cardinal, were to supervise the
There was no more thought of a free-standing structure. The
monument was still to include some forty figures on three sides,
but it was to be set against a wall, in keeping with precisely the
tradition with which Michelangelo had wanted to break. There
could be no question of taking up the original plan. The new one,
( however, was to expand in a vertical direction.
The lowest level was to be flanked by two "tabernacles" with
goddesses of victory, ringed by pillars with captives. The middle
-.. level was left unchanged. In place of Earth and Heaven, four an-
gels were to busy themselves with the body of the pope in the
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 213

topmost level and above, in Michelangelo's drawing, within a fine,

almond-shaped oval below the tall arch of a chapel wall, soars a
Madonna, child in arm.
Prospects for resuming the work were anything but favorable,
though Michelangelo always infinitely preferred working in stone
to painting. Despite the restrictions imposed upon him, he still
looked upon the work as a giant enterprise, for in i513 he cal-
culated it would take him seven years, while in 1506 (in a letter
dated May 2) he had estimated that the original plan would take
only five, adding that it would be without parallel in the world.
One might think that Leo could not have been overly happy
seeing the greatest artist of the time devoting the best years of his
life to the glorification of his predecessor. Nonetheless he seems
to have had scarcely a thought for Michelangelo during the early
years of his reign. Only after three years did he summon him to
challenge his talents. By then, had Michelangelo retained the
zealous concern for the tomb of his younger years, the project
should have been far advanced. Apparently, however, his interest
had cooled in the intervening years, perhaps under the influence
of his herculean labors in the Sistine Chapel; or he must have felt
that sense of tedium even lesser artists know when they feel
chained to an idea conceived many years ago. He was forestalled
in shaping his future as he would. The past held him in its grip.


Initially Michelangelo in all likelihood tackled the work with

his wonted fervor. He moved his workshop to a house on the
Macello de' Corvi, which was to become his property on the con-
clusion of the job. Thither he had the pieces he had started as
well as the blocks brought, which Julius' gold had secured and
which had been stored in St. Peter's Square. They had lain there
214 Michelangelo
exposed to wind and weather, and according to Michelangelo
there had been much pilferage. Several smaller blocks and two
large ones, worth fifty florins each, seem to have been appro-
priated by Agostino Chigi. Two others, rough-hewn, had come
from Carrara, and another substantial shipment had arrived
thence in July 1508. It must have lasted Michelangelo a long
while, for it was 1516 before he again went to Carrara.
In a letter to his brother Buonarroto of July 30, 1513, he wrote
he did not think he would be able to come to Florence in Sep-
tember, since "I am working so hard that I scarcely have time
to eat."
When Michelangelo did visit Florence in the summer of 1514
on the occasion of the festival of St. John, several journeymen and
masters were employed in his Roman workshop. Apparently they
were working with him on the Moses statue. There can be no
question, however, that this statue was far from finished. In 1518,
when Julius' heirs importuned him, he had not a single finished
statue to show them. The house of Rovere was aheady in eclipse
and a thing of the past even in Michelangelo's mind.
Yet in a letter of June 1515 he was still hopeful of being able
to complete the tomb quickly. For he was playing with the
thought, he wrote brother Buonarroto, of entering the service of
Pope Leo upon its completion and had, on that account, aheady
purchased twenty thousand pounds of bronze "to cast certain
figures." What these were is not known.
What we observe here as on many other occasions is that he
was ignoring his patrons' bidding. They wanted him to use a com-
petent staff of assistants and get the work done; but Michelangelo
fetched up, as with other composite sculpture projects, on his in-
ability to work with others. Not only was he aloof in spirit-he
insisted on doing everything himself, which was simply beyond
his powers.
Incapable of organizing a school of apprentices and assistants,
he nevertheless tortured himself when the heirs kept importuning
him to speed up the work. It made him furious to hear the cardinal
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 215

say he worked too slowly. He hated it when his patrons stuck their
noses into his problems and professional secrets.


He wanted away from Rome to Florence, to work in peace,

time and again begged permission to do the tomb there-and got
it in i516. But when he was there about to fall to in earnest, real-
izing the youthful plan that had been his pride but now had be-
come his affiiction, another, totally different task supervened, de-
manding all his thought and strength.
According to Michelangelo's own testimony (in a letter to an
unidentified friend of February i520), Pope Leo X suddenly had
him summoned from Carrara to Rome, whither he set out on
December 5, i516. There the pope charged him with providing
a fac;ade, still wanting, for the Medici family church in Florence,
San Lorenzo. Michelangelo does not say just how the pope con-
ceived the notion of entrusting such a task to an artist with no
reputation whatever in architecture.
When Leo, in i515, following his meeting with Francis I of
France in Bologna, came to Florence, the Signoria and Giuliano
de' Medici, Duke of Nemours, then reigning in the city, gave the
pope a princely welcome. The Florentine artists had built wooden
arches of triumph, adorned with statues and paintings; but the
pope was most deeply impressed with the pseudo fac;ade Jacopo
Sansovino and Andrea del Sarto had given the then bare front of
the church of Santa Maria del Fiori. This is what suggested to Leo
the creation of a real fac;ade for his much smaller family church.
To enhance it would surely aid the prestige of the house of Medici,
a matter of much concern to Leo, as it would be to the next Medici
on the papal throne, Clement VII.
Apparently the pope consulted the cathedral architect, Baccio
216 Michelangelo
d'Agnolo, Raphael and perhaps even Jacopo Sansovino; but none
of these is likely to have proposed Michelangelo as the most quali-
fied architect. Most probably it was again Michelangelo's loyal old
advocate, Giuliano de San Gallo, who planted the notion in Leo's
mind. Following Bramante's death, San Gallo had reemerged from
the background to which he had been relegated. In i514 he had
been appointed architect of St. Peter's; and it had long been his
ardent desire to crown the work of his ideal, Brunelleschi, with a
But San Gallo was old and feeble. By July l, i515, he had
resigned his office, and he died in October i516 at the age of 74.
While he lived, Michelangelo was reluctant to compete with his
benefactor for an architectural assignment. Now that San Gallo
was dead, his innate ambition made him fear the work might be
given to men whom he believed incapable of doing it properly
and whom he begrudged it.


Great artists are often reluctant to see a job within their powers
slip through their fingers, especially one that might be both honor-
ific and remunerative and give them a chance to display hitherto
wisuspected faculties. In this respect Michelangelo, gifted as he
knew he was, was no exception. But in contrast to other artists who
accepted many commissions and often allowed far too much time
elapse until they were done, he was altogether incapable of let-
ting associates carry most of the burden, as did his contempo-
rary, Raphael, and in a later century, Rubens. Michelangelo
never had a collaborator worthy of the name, only menials, garzoni,
to whom he could give no responsibility. Neither his willpower
nor his creative moods, on the other hand, were strong enough to
sustain him. He dissipated his energies, squandered his time on
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 217

lesser work in the marble quarries, lost his temper in perpetual

wrangling with sullen workers and hostile drovers and skippers.
Doubly ill-starred the hour Michelangelo insisted on weighing
himself down with this new burden, at the very time when he
stood a chance of having done with the job that for so long had
meant the chef d'ceuvre of his life-the Julius tomb.
One senses that his work could come into proper focus only
when a commanding personality like Pope Julius stood over him,
capable of an astringency equal to his own. Left to his own de-
vices he was forever in danger of letting everything go half-done.
Troubles piled up in his way and discouragement laid hold of him.
His best friends, the marbles, refused to speak to him. He was fed
up with them-he who had watched ecstatically as they broke
away from the rock face.
There can be little doubt that a fair share of Michelangelo's
energy went into his addiction for haunting the quarries, wander-
ing about among huge marble blocks that held untold possibilities
and gave him a thousand and one ideas, picking and choosing
among them, now discarding one that was marred by a vein, now
finding one which skilled masons might dress into rough shape to
the master's liking.
But once the irksome problem of transport had been solved and
the slabs piled up outside his shop, they began to take on another
face. No longer did they smile on him temptingly as they had when
they were wrested from the bowels of the hills. No longer did they
seem to long for the mallet's blow and the chisel's bite. There they
lay, cold and dead, daunting him with their massiveness-and the
master would shut the door and sit down to write a sonnet.
This brought momentary relief, but it was all too fleeting, and
as he brooded on the seemingly insurmountable tribulations that
threatened to entangle him, he saw in his mind's eye the root cause
of all evil-the malice of his fellow men.
The Sistine ceiling he had had to paint, because Bramante and
Raphael had hoped he would come a cropper over this task outside
his proper field; and now Leo had given him the fa9ade of San
218 Michelangelo
Lorenzo to sabotage the work on the Julius tomb, from hatred of
the house of Rovere. Similarly, he was to discover later on that
Cardinal Giulio (the later Pope Clement VII) commissioned him
to do the tombs of the two Medici dukes and the Laurentian Li-
brary, to boot, solely from hatred of the Rovere popes. The pope
asked only that he present his plan for oral approval. Together with
Baccio d'Agnolo, who was supervising the building work on the
cathedral, he was to meet Pope Leo in Montefiascone. With his
usual pig-headed incivility, Michelangelo refused. Baccio d'Ag-
nolo's presence would do, and whatever settlement he would reach
had Michelangelo's approval in advance. Baccio, of course, fore-
saw quite clearly that the stiff-necked artist would never rest
content with a decision reached in his absence and declined to
go alone.
In November i516 Michelangelo was sent a letter advising him
that the pope deemed his presence essential and desired to speak
with him. He must hurry, to arrive before the court returned to
Rome. Perhaps to goad him, there were hints about a "friend" who
was eager to foil his plans and about other obstacles that might
threaten. Michelangelo agreed to come at once, but then changed
his mind and sent a refusal.
This obduracy of Michelangelo's is utterly perplexing. Only in
November he had placed large orders for marble in Carrara. He
was sure of being welcomed in Rome and of finding funds waiting
for him. Every concession was made to him. As brother Buonarroto
assured him on January i, 1517, Baccio was willing to submit to
him in every way. The pope was prepared to make the work as
easy and convenient as possible-Baccio Baglioni and Baccio Bigi
were to do the rough stone work, Michelangelo only the sculptural
decoration. Indeed, the pope was content that he should do only
the main figures, making models of the others, which his assistants
could then execute.
This is what was conceded on November g. Apparently his
reluctance even to travel in anyone's company was now accepted
- he had become more and more the lone wolf. He was asked to

..._______ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 219

come alone. Overcoming his aversion, he made the short trip and
showed the pope a drawing, which was approved.


It is true that Michelangelo felt a profound distaste. Slowly

there had grown up within him a hatred of the Medici family that
blunted all his zest. He worked at a snail's pace on the Julius
tomb, if at all, for he had become alienated from the shrunken
project. His memories of Julius II had neither depth nor strength.
In 1515 Pope Leo X had deprived Francesco Maria della
Rovere, Julius' nephew, of the Duchy of Urbino, to give it to his
own nephew Lorenzo; and Michelangelo could not escape the
suspicion that all Leo's favors were meant only to keep him from
finishing the tomb for the greatest of the Rovere.
He began to view the Medici as the tyrants of his home town.
His hatred deepened when he later mingled with the Florentine
exiles in Rome. He vented his feelings when he did his bust of
Brutus about the year 1540. These cross-currents in his mind
paralyzed his wonted enterprise.
Immediately upon signing the 1516 contract, he had gone to
Carrara, with the title of sedis apostolicae archimagister et sculp-
tor, sculptor-in-chief to the papal throne. On November i, follow-
ing his petition to be given the San Lorenzo fa9ade to do, he or-
dered nineteen "statues"-i.e., marble slabs-from Francesco Pel-
liccia for the Julius tomb, and the supplier received a hundred
florins on account, for having them roughly dressed to shape
( abozzare). They were for four large statues, thirteen feet high,
and fifteen somewhat smaller ones, for the monument's lower
level. On November 18 he ordered another four blocks of different
sizes from Bartolomeo, called Il Mancino, and one Domenico
Fancelli signed for Bartolomeo, who could not write.
220 Michelangelo
Yet as early as February 12, i517, Michelangelo entered into
an agreement with Lionardo da Cagione, covering a shipment
from his quarry of columns, statues and relief slabs for the San
Lorenzo fa9ade. And then, only two months later, came the re-
treat. By April Michelangelo had grown convinced that he could
not do the tomb according to the plan of the preceding July. The
order for the nineteen blocks was canceled and Michelangelo
secured a refund of the hundred florins.
At this time the most pressing task must have been delivery of
a model for the fa9ade, for which the pope and his people were
impatiently waiting. Michelangelo had already received a thou-
sand florins on account; but he was content to give his drawing to
Baccio d'Agnolo in Florence, on his way from Rome to Carrara,
so that Baccio could make the model from it. Evidently Michel-
angelo himself was in no hurry to make a start.
When he was actually asked for the model, he stood empty-
handed. (He himself called Baccio's effort a botch-cosa di
fanciulli.) He next thought of having an assistant in Carrara,
La Grassa, make a clay model but then he thought better of it
and decided to make the model with his own hands.
By July and August i517 he still had not found time to do the
model. As he wrote unblinkingly to Domenico Buoninsegni, "it
would lead too far afield" why. "I made a tiny clay model for my
own private purposes," he went on, "and though it is as crooked
as a rolled waffie [crespello], I am prepared to send it, so that you
may know I am not deceiving you."
After this extraordinary admission-that from November i516
to July or August i517 he did not have a day's time to make a
proper model of this major project-the letter goes on to make
great promises and equally great demands:
"I have more to communicate to you-read it with patience
for it is important. I am confident of being able to give the fa9ade
of San Lorenzo such form that it will become the mirror of archi-
tecture and sculpture for all Italy. To this end it will be necessary
for the pope and the cardinal to decide promptly whether they
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 221

wish me to do it or not. If they do, they must give me a contract

as well as their full confidence."
Already, he continues, he has ordered much marble, but he
will account for only what he actually uses, not for what proves
worthless, for he knows nothing about bookkeeping. He will
entrust the marble shipments to three or four of the best men
in Carrara, men of his choosing, and the stone must match the
quality of several excellent ones already quarried. The cost would
come to thirty-five thousand florins and the work completed
within six years.
The pope knew very well that Michelangelo disliked him, but
he can scarcely be accused of willfulness toward the great man.
He accepted everything. All he wanted to see was the model. So
Michelangelo went to Florence late in August, only to fall ill
there. He dispatched his assistant Pietro Urbano to Rome with a
wooden model, on which statues and other plastic decorations in
wax had been mounted. This was approved and a contract was
signed on January 19, 1518. Michelangelo insisted on the protec-
tion of an instrument in writing, which he could flourish in the
faces of the Rovere heirs, who were forever snapping at his heels,
because of the Julius tomb.

It was now a matter of recruiting competent craftsmen, who
would work under Michelangelo's direction, nor was there any
lack of talented young artists eager to work with so great a master.
But again his aloofness and seclusiveness made it impossible for
him to use collaborators.
One would have to be obtuse to blame Michelangelo for his
distrust of his fellow artists. It had grown on him for good rea-
son. The trouble was that his suspicions were forever misdirected,
222 Michelangelo
whereas he gave his full trust to mediocre artists like Antonio
Mini, to whom he entrusted his cartoons and models to take to
France, or Ascanio Condivi, his biographer-to-be. He confided in
nonentities like Silvio Falcone, who began running his workshop
in 1513 but suddenly left him in 1517, or Bernardino di Settignano,
who proved to be a villain. With all his distrustfulness, Michel-
angelo was no judge of men. He entrusted the finishing of his
Christ statue (in Santa Maria sopra Minerva) to his assistant
Pietro Urbano of Pistoja, who ruined the marble and thereupon
fled to Naples, not without taking along a ring worth forty florins
belonging to Michelangelo.
Every time he blundered in this way, his distrust deepened,
and it found expression precisely against those on whom he might
have indeed relied and who could have been of real use to him.
It is the same story on this occasion. He failed to accept
even one of the young Lombard artists recommended to him by
Buoninsegni, the pope's treasurer, who was well-disposed toward
the project. He was totally incapable of tolerating opposition or
of unbending. He now turned away eminent men like Andrea
Contucci, as he had once turned away Domenico Fancelli and
Benedetto da Rovezzano. We have seen how scornfully he spoke
of the model Baccio d'Agnolo had made from his drawing, with
great reluctance and solely as a favor to Michelangelo. In Baccio's
place he accepted La Grassa, a far lesser man than the cathedral
architect and one whom even brother Buonarroto called a fool.
Those men of talent who did ingratiate themselves with him,
like Sebastiano del Piombo (whose letters to Michelangelo are an
object lesson in character judgment), gained his acceptance less
by true devotion than by deprecating Raphael, the hated rival.
Sebastiano ridiculed Raphael with his many students as il principe
della sinagoga. The Venetian was forever taking advantage of
Michelangelo as a patron and anonymous collaborator; and Mi-
chelangelo, yielding to the weakness of many great men, felt
closer to the artist who exploited him than to the many capable
ones who wanted only to be used by him.
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 223

Jacopo Tatti, dubbed Sansovino, the great architect and sculp-

tor, is the most melancholy example. An old friend of the Buo-
narroti family, he had been called to Rome at the same time as
Michelangelo. The two were of about the same age-Sansovino
was only four years younger. Originally a disciple of the eminent
sculptor Andrea Contucci, from whom he had taken the name
Sansovino, his art was quite uninfluenced by Michelangelo. He
was eager to lighten the labors of the master, who had orally ac-
cepted him as a collaborator on the far;ade. But the pope and
Cardinal Salviati had made certain promises to Sansovino, con-
cerning some reliefs ( storie) he was to do-and suddenly Michel-
angelo could no longer get on with him. He threw out Sansovino
and replaced him with the wretched Baccio Bandinelli, later on:
to become such a bitter enemy of Michelangelo.
Sansovino's letter of June 21, 1517, makes sad reading. Cut to
the quick, he reproached Michelangelo with duplicity, breach of
promise and ingratitude. Ignorant of the many things Michel-
angelo had done for his family, Sansovino wrote: "Verily, you have
never done good to anyone"; and in equal ignorance of Michel-
angelo's compassion for the worthy and unworthy alike, he added:
"A curse on you, if even once you ever said a good thing of any-
one." It speaks well of Michelangelo's highmindedness that soon
afterward he was instrumental in getting Sansovino the commis-
sion for a monument for the Duke of Sessa. At the same time his
utter failure to grasp where his own advantage lay is underlined
by his rejection of a collaborator who had built the splendid
Libreria di San Marco, perhaps the finest building in Venice.


The discovery of the marble quarries at Seravezza near Flor-

ence had an effect on the Florentine government comparable to
224 Michelangelo
that of a new gold strike on the London Stock Exchange in our
days. It meant an unexpected source of revenue and an end to
dependence on Carrara. In i515 the township of Seravezza had
ceded the quarries to the city of Florence and they now belonged
to the woolen guild ( arte della Zana), which presided over the
work on the cathedral.
Oddly enough these marble deposits, abandoned as worthless
by the Florentines and the cause of a breakdown in Michelan-
gelo's life, were actually of the highest quality. Reopened some
three hundred years later, they proved so rich that after i830
they provided the marble for Napoleon's tomb in the lnvalides,
for the Isaac church in St. Petersburg and many other monuments.
But in the life of Michelangelo the name of Seravezza was to
become an exercise in utter frustration. It stood for menial work
and self-torture, created a vacuum in his creative career.
One might think momentarily that Michelangelo would have
welcomed the discovery of marble at Seravezza together with the
pope's strict injunction to secure all the marble needed from the
new quarry in Pietrasanta. At the time he had had a most serious
falling-out with the quarrymen at Carrara. In August i516 he
wrote that he neither cared to go to Carrara again himself nor to
send an emissary, since the people there were intolerably treach-
erous ( traditori e tristi), if not altogether mad. Yet during the
next few months, as we have seen, he placed big orders for marble
with Pellicia.
Quite naturally he did not find it easy to break with the
Carrarese, who had worked for him to his satisfaction ever since
he had done his Pieta. There was a whole platoon of skilled crafts-
men in Carrara, accustomed to abide by his every whim. For a
long time, moreover, he had maintained the friendliest relations
with the Marchese Alberigo Malaspina, ruler of the tiny princi-
pality where the quarries were located, and his chancelor, Antonio
di Massa.
But not for nothing was the pope a Florentine. Eager to pro-
tect the interests of his city, he would no longer hear of Carrara.
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 225

Salviati proceeded to Seravezza in January 1517 and Michelangelo

was commanded to put in an appearance there. His insistence on
entering into an agreement with Lionardo da Cagione in Feb-
ruary 1517, as already mentioned, aroused deep resentment in
Florence as well as Rome, where, as his brother wrote him, it was
concluded that he must be hand in glove with Signor Alberigo.
He was reminded of the allegiance he owed as archimaestro
sculptore de la sedia apostolica. Salviati told him in no uncertain
terms that he must desist from his obstinacy-nothing but marble
from Tuscany was to be used for San Lorenzo and for St. Peter's.
In May 1518 Michelangelo at last arrived in Seravezza. He
demanded and was granted supervision over the building of roads
from the coast to the best marble outcroppings, as well as the
lifetime right to bring marble into Florence duty-free. He asked
for the services of Messer Donato Benti, but kept all authority in
his own hands, since he alone knew where the best places were.
He already had all the trouble he could handle, for he had now
made enemies of the Carrarese. When he chartered four ships to
load the marble from Carrara, they tried to stop him by bribing
the skippers. He decided to go to Pisa to find other ships.
He had meanwhile succeeded in exacting the concession that
he might get his marble from Seravezza or Carrara, as he pleased.
Oddly enough, in the beginning he felt quite happy in his role
as boss of the stone masons at the marble camp, as though all
thought of art had gone from his mind. With not a word did he
mention his heroic statues and reliefs-not a hint that he craved
to embark on his creative work. The months lengthened, the years
slipped by, while he forgot the end for the means. His every
thought revolved around finding unveined marble, immaculate
white plinths for columns.
As it turned out, he got on even worse with the hewers at
Pietrasanta than with those at Carrara. The masons he had brought
out from Florence himself knew nothing about quarrying, he com-
plained. Already they had cost him 130 florins (April 18, 1518),
without splitting off even a tile to his satisfaction. If he had his
226 Michelangelo
own way, he would ride off to the pope and the Cardinal de'
Medici, leaving the whole Seravezza mess to its own devices and
heading back for Carrara. To teach these people anything about
art, to tame these mountains was like trying to awaken the dead.
It was simply too much, he said. The ships he had chartered in
Pisa had not arrived. They were making a fool of him. "A thousand
curses on the hour and the day I left Carrara! That was when all
my troubles began." He had completely forgotten the intolerable
treachery of the Carraronese, about which he had complained
only a short time ago.
Thus he buried himself and his talents in the marble quarries,
now in Seravezza, as before in Carrara. He cut roads, had blocks
of various sizes dressed, chartered barges to have them shipped to
Florence. There he cast about for a commodious building where
he could do all his marbles and bronzes, tentatively settled on a
site on the square facing the church of Ognissanti, on November
24, i518, purchased another lot on the Via Mozza (now the Via
Zanobi) for i70 florins, and by Christmas had a fine workshop
finished, capable of accommodating twenty figures at once (none
of which was ever finished). His only complaint was that the place
could not be roofed over, since Florence was short of lumber, and
that the severe drought kept the marble blocks from being shipped
by the Arno.
In other words, while maintaining that in his head he had
finished twelve marble statues, six seated bronze figures and nine-
teen reliefs, he wasted his time and energy on menial work a
competent assistant could have done just as well-solely because
of his obsession with doing everything himself.
Slowly his creative capacities waned. No longer did he feel
the compulsion to realize his ideas; and day by day the work grew
more difficult, as hand and eye got out of practice.
The moment came at last when pope and cardinal lost their
patience. The cardinal asked for an accounting of monies received
and it was found that only 500 of 2 , 300 florins were left. As usual,
Michelangelo rationalized the situation to himself and to all and
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 227

sundry by attributing it to the vengefulness of a subordinate. The

way he put it, Buoninsegni, the cardinal's treasurer, had dropped
broad hints about getting a cut from the marble shipments and
when Michelangelo had rebuffed him, he had persuaded the car-
dinal to ask for an accounting.
Michelangelo's original design for the fa9ade was that of a
sculptor rather than an architect. True, its broad space could have
been imbued with life only by means of sculpture. Yet throughout
the period he was charged with this work, from December 1516
to January 1520, Michelangelo, so far as can be seen, did not even
rough out a single statue or relief. The pope abandoned all further
thought of having him build a fa9ade for San Lorenzo.


The time had now come when Michelangelo, according to his

pledge to the heirs of Julius II and the pope's promise to him,
should have concentrated on the tomb that had dragged on for so
many years. As we have seen, he had set up a workshop for him-
self. It seems to have sheltered the four unfinished figures from
the Boboli Gardens and a model for the Victory, now in the
Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. In Rome the tale got about that he
was not working at all and a Monsignor Francesco Pallavicini
was dispatched to inspect the studio. He saw the many marble
blocks in it, including various works in progress, among them
probably the two magnificent Captives now in the Louvre.
But when it was proposed in 1542 to install the tomb in an
ancient Roman basilica, thus assembling everything that was in-
tended for it, Michelangelo steadfastly refused to release the two
Captives and the Victory; and ultimately they were indeed ex-
Actually, once the fai;ade project had been abandoned, the way
228 Michelangelo
was open for Michelangelo to complete the Julius tomb in what-
ever manner he chose. One might have thought he would have wel-
comed the opportunity to get out from under the mausoleum
project that had haunted him since his youth.
But Leo X and his counselor, the Medici cardinal, had con-
ceived plans for a new undertaking that was to enhance the pres-
tige of the Medici name. This was to have Michelangelo execute
monuments in the sacristy of San Lorenzo in memory of the late
dukes of the great family. The Venetian Sebastiano del Piombo,
who was in constant correspondence with Michelangelo, was asked
to interest him in the plan, to assuage his brusqueness and to put
him in a favorable mood by the clever use of flattery. In a letter
of October 27, i520, Sebastiano wrote:
"The pope speaks of you as of a brother, almost with tears in
his eyes. The two of you have been raised together, 0 he says;
but you terrify him."
Elsewhere in the letter the Venetian writes that the pope agreed
that Sebastiano could do wonders with Michelangelo's help; for,
said the pope, "you have all learned from him. Raphael stopped
painting in the style of Perugino, once he had seen Michelangelo's
work. But as you see, Michelangelo is terribile and there is no
getting on with him."
Sebastiano dearly wished Michelangelo's help in painting the
great Sala di Costantino in the Vatican-in which the history of
the Emperor Constantine was to be depicted-and promised the
pope he would indeed "do wonders" in that event. Leo did not
doubt it, but he bemoaned Michelangelo's terribilita even while
emphasizing the debt all other artists owed him. (As we know,
the Sala was painted by some of Raphael's disciples.)
Justi maintains that in Michelangelo's time the word terribile
was used synonymously with stupendo, and terribilitd with pron-
tezza, fierezza, vivacita, vivezza-in other words, implying zeal and
The two: Michelangelo and Giulio de' Medici, the later pope Clement VII.
Giulio was a nephew of Lorenzo Magnifico and lived in his palace, where Michel-
angelo stayed for a few years as a guest. Michelangelo was three years younger
than Giulio de' Medici.
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 229

fervor, vehemence, force, animation. Vasari found that Michelan-

gelo's virtue over the ancients was certa vivacita. Fanfani defines
terribile in his dictionary as marvelous ( terribile vale maravigliosa).
We see that it certainly was not limited to the present meaning
of "inspiring terror." It did not connote a degree of menace and
awe, in contrast to exuberance. It was applied on the one hand
to such themes as the Last Judgment, on the other to the demoniac
power of the imagination to create works that stun and transfigure.
In English the word terrific is sometimes used in a similar vein, if
we define it not merely as "causing great terror" but also as "enor-
mously intense."


It was in an effort to overcome Michelangelo's reclusion by

harnessing his terribilita to solitary work that Leo gave him the
task of doing the tombs in San Lorenzo.
The new project struck a spark in the artist's mind. To demon-
strate his creative powers to his home town despite the fiasco of
the fac;ade was to him a challenge. He went to Carrara at once, in
April 1520, made careful scale models in clay and placed orders
for marble.
Then the project began to falter, according to Michelangelo
solely on account of Cardinal Giulio. But the interruption was to
last two-and-a-half years, spanning the brief reign of Pope Adrian,
until Giulio mounted the papal throne as Clement VIL We might
think Michelangelo would have resumed work on the Julius tomb
and perhaps finished it. Strange as it may seem, he was apparently
unable to make up his mind.
Once again, it would appear, he was disconcerted by financial
stringencies that crippled his willpower. No doubt, too, the new
Medici project attracted him far more strongly than the everlasting
230 Michelangelo
Julius tomb. Whatever his state of mind may have been, here for
the second time was a conflict between two projects, and again
Michelangelo was paralyzed by irresolution.
Pope Leo X had dethroned and even exiled Francesco Maria,
Duke of Urbino and head of the house of Rovere. But when
Hadrian Dede! Floriszoon of Utrecht became pope in January
1522 under the name of Adrian VI, he at once returned the duchy
to Francesco Maria and gave him the prefecture of the city of
Rome as well.
This brief shift in power between the Medici and the Rovere
put Michelangelo in a humiliating position. The Duke of Urbino
quite rightly reproached him. He had taken money for the Julius
tomb right down to 1518 without accomplishing anything. To
make matters worse, Michelangelo had worked for the man who
had taken the duke's lands, put him to flight, excommunicated
Francesco Maria, known especially because of Baldassare Ca-
stiglione's admiring friendship for him, had been compelled to Hee
to Mantua. Castiglione's Cortegiano (The Courtier) exalts him
beyond measure, though he was in fact a brutal and violent man.
As a young man he had commanded the army of Julius II, whose
defeat brought on the loss of Bologna and the destruction of the
Julius statue Michelangelo had cast in bronze in 1506.
The Duke of Urbino now brought suit against Michelangelo,
demanding repayment of the funds advanced, with interest.
Michelangelo's first impulse was to concede his responsibility.
In a letter to Fatucci of April 1523 he declared he could not but
yield to these demands for interest and damages, that he would
have to do the tomb and postpone the work in the Medici chapel,
unless the pope freed him of his obligations.
But this was soon followed by outbursts of anger and resent-
ment. He brooded over the wrongs he had suffered, the fees he
should have got. His return from the Julius statue had been only
four or five florins, for the Sistine Chapel far less than promised;
and now the Rovere heirs insultingly demanded sums spent for
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 231

necessary purchases. It was they who owed him money rather

than he them.
In July i524 he wrote Fatucci: "To begin the work [on the
Medici tombs] I must await arrival of the marble blocks, and I
think they are never going to come! I could tell you stories that
would amaze you-but I would never be believed. Enough of
it, it drives me to despair. If the work were a little more advanced,
the pope would have long since straightened out my problem [the
Julius Tomb] and I would be out of all my misery. . . . Yesterday
I met a man who told me to pay up or I would risk a penalty at the
end of the month." As usual, he then began to exaggerate, wildly
venting his frustration. "I never believed there were any penal-
ties but hellfire, or two florins' income tax if I ran a silk or gold-
smith's shop and lent out the rest at usurious interest. For three
hundred years we have been paying taxes in Florence. 0 to be
a tax collector just once! Always it's pay, pay! Unless I pay they
will take everything, and I must go to Rome. If my affairs were in
order, I might have sold something, bought government securi-
ties and stayed in Florence."


All Michelangelo's hopes were now centered on the house of

Medici. The period during which he had been indifferent and
irresolute about doing the Julius tomb had been followed by one
in which it weighed on him like a nightmare. He had but one
thought-to shake it off.
He welcomed Giulio's elevation to the papacy" in November
i523 with the utmost elation. He was sure there would be no
further humiliation for him-even though he had but recently
complained of how the pope, when he still was a cardinal, had
Giulio de' Medici took the name Clement VII.
232 Michelangelo
humiliated him, by terminating the fa<;ade project. Now he was
hopeful the pope would shield him from all the demands made
on him and to that end set the work on the tombs and the library
in San Lorenzo going. The pope did indeed see to it that there
were efforts at mediation in 1526. Michelangelo made another
drawing for the Julius tomb, which the duke saw and approved.
But now came the deluge of war, sweeping away all thoughts
of monuments. In 1526 Cardinal Colonna and other Medici ene-
mies launched an armed attack on Rome, plundered the Vatican,
chasing Clement into the Castel Sant' Angelo for the first time.
In the fall of 1526 the mercenary armies of Emperor Charles V
crossed the Alps. Charles of Bourbon was approaching Tuscany.
A rebellion broke out in Florence.
Early in May 1527 came the dreadful sack of Rome at the hands
of the Lutheran mercenaries. On May 17 the Medici were ex-
pelled from Florence. Work on the Medici tombs in the sacristy of
San Lorenzo was out of the question.
For nine months on end Clement, bottled up in Sant' Angelo,
watched the smoke rise from burning palazzi, listened to the
screams of men tortured, women raped. Small wonder the Medici
lost their hold on Florence. There is precious little evidence of
what Michelangelo was about in the year 1527. We do know that
to his great sorrow his brother Buonarroto died of the plague on
July 2, 1528. Michelangelo is said to have held the dying man
fearlessly in his arms. His bills show that the clothes of widow
and children were burned after the funeral, to avoid contagion.
All the family expenses rested on the lonely Michelangelo. He
paid the widow Bartolommea her dowry, placed his niece Fran-
cesca in a convent until she should marry and provided in every
respect for his nephew Lionardo.
A study of Michelangelo's letters reveals his extreme preoccu-
pation with money matters. There is incessant mention of pay-
ments and deposits, marble purchases, wages for assistants, sup-
port for his family, financial straits.
To understand these last troubles one must know the great
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 233
artist's curious idiosyncrasies in money matters. Probably for
good reason, he was reluctant to keep large sums in his home.
Whatever he earned was usually given in the keeping of a Floren-
tine bank, even when he was in Rome, and invested in real estate,
so that it could not be touched. Personally he was frugal, if not
ascetic. He ate and drank little, dressed plainly and spent vir-
tually nothing on himself. By contrast he gave large sums to his
father, his brothers and his nephews, for reasons of traditional
Italian family pride and status, but without enthusiasm.
Though little given to ostentation, he freely offered his nephew
and heir Lionardo Buonarroti fifteen hundred to two thousand
florins on the young man's marriage, so that he might buy a family
home. They were Florentine citizens of noblest descent, he wrote
the same nephew (December 4, 1546 )-that is why he had always
endeavored to advance the family fortunes, an effort in which his
brothers had frustrated him.
Significantly, Michelangelo, who in his younger years always
signed himself M ichelagniolo, scultore in Roma, on a later occa-
sion took offense when he received a letter addressed scultore. It
should have borne only his name. He was a gentleman, not a
craftsman, a cittadino fiorentino who had never pursued art as a
business, "a Florentine patrician who had never kept a shop."
On countless occasions Michelangelo might undoubtedly have
created works of art, if he had had the money for materials and
wages-or had been willing to spend it when it mattered; but the
result of his poor management was that he lived in perpetual and
totally needless financial difficulties that clouded his life. It took
time and trouble to withdraw money from a bank, often located
in another city. To nag reluctant popes and cardinals for funds,
without which the whole work would grind to a halt, was equally
troublesome and aroused resentment.
Despite his largesse toward his family, he had the thriftiness of
the true Florentine and tended to count every penny in his marble
purchases and workshop expenses. If he insisted on doing every-
thing himself, even the most menial work, this was not just pride
234 Michelangelo
and egotism but often a matter of plain thrift. He was reluctant
to pay wages to assistants to get a job done. With enough assistants,
generously paid, he could well have finished both the Julius tomb
and the fa9ade of San Lorenzo in time.
He abandoned all thought of the tomb-but he cannot have
been very happy over it. Just as the daily sight of the bare wall,
when he passed San Lorenzo, served him as a painful reminder
of the job he had been given and had neglected, so the numerous
marble blocks in his Florence and Rome studios kept reminding
him of the statues slumbering within, waiting for decades to be
freed from their stone prison. But they were destined to languish
there forever, waste their lives within the marble, never to emerge
into the light of day.

By August 1527 France and England had agreed to put pres-
sure on Charles V, who had the sack of Rome on his conscience.
Under the Treaty of Barcelona (June 1529) the emperor agreed
to relinquish the Florentine Republic, which enabled the pope to
take revenge on Florence for its disloyalty toward the house of
The citizens of Florence rallied in the emergency. The Council
of Ten, Florence's war ministry, marshaled an armed force under
generals Malatesta Baglioni and Stefano Colonna. In the spring
of 1529 the Council (now reduced to nine) resolved to recruit
Michelangelo as a military engineer. Defense exigencies might dic-
tate the tearing down of houses and the building of barricades,
which meant that a man with reputation as a builder was needed.
In its whole language the document appointing Michelangelo
(April 6, 1529) breathes the respect the age of the Renaissance
paid the manifold talents of true genius:
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 235
"Whereas Michelangelo di Ludovico Buonarroti, a man of
demonstrated talent and practical skill, is known to us as an em-
inent architect, apart from his other extraordinary gifts in the fine
arts, wherefore he is universally considered to be unsurpassed by
any other master of our day; and whereas we are furthermore con-
vinced that he yields to no other good and right-thinking citizen
in love and devotion for his ancestral city; and whereas we are
furthermore mindful of the work he has freely undertaken without
pay and of the zeal he has displayed to this day in the fortification
of the city; and whereas we furthermore propose to employ his
ability and energy in the time to come; now therefore do we of our
own free will and initiative ordain him governor and procurator
general for the construction and fortification of the city walls and
for other tasks relating to the defenses of the City of Florence, his
term of office for the present to run for one year from the present
date, to be vested with plenipotentiary powers over anyone and
everyone with respect to the aforementioned works."
He was to receive a daily remuneration of one gold florin for
his work, and the first thirty gold florins were paid him on April
26. From letters by Busini to Varchi we learn that the appoint-
ment caused sharp dissatisfaction among the aristocratic party.
"In a republic," writes Busini, "envy is always inevitable, espe-
cially when the nobility constitutes a substantial element." Actu-
ally, Michelangelo, following the wishes of the Signoria, did not
limit his work to Florence. The citadels of Pisa and Livomo had
to be strengthened as well. He was in Pisa early in June, return-
ing to Florence in the middle of the month.
Ramparts were built along the Amo, but Michelangelo's plan
called especially for the erection of bastions on the heights of
Miniato, for to a besieging army San Miniato was the key point
from which all Florence could be dominated. But Conjaloniere
Niccolo Capponi kept resisting this plan and the Nine dispatched
Michelangelo to various other spots, the while fortification of the
hill was neglected. In consequence of this conflict between Michel-
angelo and the council it was decided to appeal to the greatest
236 Michelangelo
military authority in Italy at the time, Duke Alfonso of Ferrara.
Armed with letters to the duke, Michelangelo arrived in Fer-
rara on August 2, where he was royally received, but declined,
as he had once done in Pisa, to leave his inn and take residence
in the palace. He had not forgotten the fate his bronze statue of
Pope Julius had suffered in Ferrara. He was inclined to believe,
moreover, that the Nine had sent him to Ferrara only to get rid
of him, and upon his return he found the bastions on San Miniato
in a worse state than ever.


By mid-September Michelangelo was back in Florence; and

now ensued one of those mental crises we have already witnessed
more than once, a kind of panic induced partly by rational causes,
partly by irrational instinct.
Through Condivi Michelangelo later related that rumors of
impending treachery circulated among the Florentine soldiery,
that he was himself warned by friends among the officers and
that he told the Signoria what he had heard and seen, explaining
the danger facing the city but, to his disappointment, earning
only ingratitude for his dire forebodings and being mocked as
timid and suspicious.
All this agrees with what Michelangelo told Busini twenty
years later about the reasons for his flight. It was generally knovm
at the time that the Florentine General Malatesta was a traitor
and had sold out to the pope. The Nine, who assigned troops
to the walls and bastions and all officers to their posts, supplying
each with provender and ammunition, had given Malatesta eight
cannon to defend the bastions on San Miniato. But rather than
pulling the guns to the top of the hill, Malatesta left them at its
foot and did not even assign them crews.
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 237
Seeing the treachery with his own eyes, Michelangelo resolved
to extricate himself from the situation and depart Florence. He
communicated his thoughts to Rinaldo Corsini, who told him: "I
shall come with you." The two supplied themselves with money
and took to their horses. When they were halted at the gate, one
of the guard exclaimed: "That's one of the Nine, let him pass! It's
All this is quite rational in explaining the artist's flight. The
irrational factors are revealed in a letter Michelangelo dispatched
from Venice, whither he had fled, to his good friend Giovan Bat-
tista della Palla in Florence. Palla was an art buyer for Francis I
and thus traveled to France often:
"Battista, dearest friend, I left [Florence], as no doubt you well
know, to go to France and upon arriving in Venice inquired as to
the road, being advised that one must pass German territory and
that the journey is difficult and hazardous. Hence it occurs to me
to ask you whether you still expect to go and in that event where
I might meet you, so that we could depart together.
"I left Florence without dropping a hint to a single friend and
in a quite irregular manner. As you know, I have long been intent
upon going to France and since I had vainly applied for leave on
several occasions, I was resolved to await the end of the war. But
Tuesday morning, September 21, someone from the Porta San Nic-
colo came to me and whispered in my ear that I could no longer
stay if I valued my life. He went home with me, ate there with me,
secured me horses and did not leave me until he knew that I was
safely outside Florence, having proved to me this was the best
course. Whether it was God or the Devil I do not know . . . ."
Here we encounter the mysterious messenger who once before
in Michelangelo's life had ushered in sudden flight. Some scat-
tered later statements also seem to have been designed to ward off
the charge that he had deserted his post in panic.
To avoid visitors and protocol, Michelangelo kept to himself
and took up secluded quarters on the island of Giudecca. But the
government at once dispatched two noblemen to welcome him
238 Michelangelo
in the name of the republic and proffer whatever he or his com-
panions might wish. According to Vasari, the doge is said to have
asked him to draw a bridge for the Rialto and he is supposed to
have delivered a design remarkable both for its construction and
its decoration.
Meanwhile the Signoria in Florence announced that thirteen
citizens who had left the city without permission would be de-
clared rebels and have their property confiscated. Michelangelo's
name was considerately omitted and under a decree of November
16, 1529 the government seems to have been prepared to rest
content with depriving him of his post and salary.
Actually, it was quite anxious to get him back and to this end
wrote to its ambassador in Ferrara. At the same time the French
ambassador in Venice called his king's attention to the opportunity
for recruiting Michelangelo into French service; but we do not
know whether Francis I took any steps in that direction.
The great artist's friends in Florence in the meantime did what
they could to safeguard his property against the likelihood of seiz-
ure. There is still in existence an inventory of his stores of wine,
wheat and household goods, given by his servant Catarina to his
friend Francesco Granacci, who was willing to take charge of
them. On October 13 Galeotto Giugni wrote from Ferrara to the
Florentine war council that Michelangelo had asked him to inter-
cede, had promised to return and throw himself at the feet of the
Signoria. In answer to Giugni the Signoria stated that it had made
out a safe-conduct.
On October 23, a gem-cutter close to Michelangelo, Sebastiano
di Francesco, equipped with traveling expenses by Giovan Battista
della Palla, set out from Florence to Venice to bring Michelangelo
an answer to his letter. This answer reveals that Palla, on account
of the war situation, had given up all thought of traveling to
France, and it is of great interest in showing the heroic spirit ani-
mating the Florentine citizenry in the face of danger. Palla wrote
"Yesterday I and ten other friends bf yours sent you a letter

The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 239

and a safe-conduct from the Signoria for the month of November,

and though I am firmly convinced it will reach you, I take the pre-
caution of attaching another copy to this letter. I need scarcely
repeat what I have written at such length; nor need I again mo-
bilize your friends. I know that they have one and all, without
hesitation or a shadow of disagreement, encouraged you to come
home immediately upon receipt of these letters and the safe-
conduct, that you may preserve your life, your country, your
friends, your honor and your property, and that you may further-
more rejoice over these times for which you have so earnestly
hoped and striven [the liberation of Florence].
"Had anyone told me I would not feel the slightest fear in
learning that a hostile army was marching against us, I would
have believed it impossible. Yet I assure you that not only am I
entirely without fear but confident of honorable victory. My soul
has long been filled with such happiness that should God, on ac-
count of our sins or for some other mysterious reason, deny us de-
feat and annihilation of this army at our hands, I should enter-
tain the kind of sadness one feels over the loss of something long
owned rather than only hoped for."
After setting forth plans for the permanent rather than tem-
porary fortification of Florence, Palla writes that the entire en-
virons of the city had been razed, sparing neither churches nor
convents nor private homes. "Among our fellow citizens," he con-
tinues, "I observe a high-minded contempt for their heavy losses
and for the luxury for their former life in the villas. Instead there
is an admirable zeal and unity in preserving our freedom. They
fear God alone, trust in Him and in the justice of our cause. There
are many other good things to report, which are certain to bring
back the Golden Age, which I hope with all my heart you will
share with all of us who are your friends."
The letter concludes with an offer to meet Michelangelo in
Lucca, where he is to be received with all due honor. He is mo-
tivated solely by the passionate desire, Palla emphasizes, that
Florence shall not lose its great son, nor he it.

Upon receipt of this letter Michelangelo set out from Venice

and arrived in Ferrara on November g, where he was given a
letter with the duke's seal, to safeguard his journey through Mo-
dena. But the local unrest must have detained him and the faith-
ful Palla had to wait in Lucca a full week in vain.
The faith of this high-minded idealist in God and the just
cause was thoroughly frustrated. When the traitor Malastesta
Baglioni had surrendered the city to the pope and the Prince of
Orange, the pope had Palla arrested and poisoned in prison, in
retribution for his love of liberty.
The Signoria let off Michelangelo with nothing worse than a
scare. As it happened, he did not reach Florence until after his
safe-conduct had expired; but while the property of other run-
aways was seized, he got off with being banned from the Grand
Council for three years-not too harsh a penalty.
But the days of the Signoria were numbered. Even in the
Treaty of Barcelona (June i529) Charles V had promised Florence
as a kind of dowry for Margaret, the emperor's illegitimate daugh-
ter,' if she married the wretched and brutal Alessandro de' Medici.
When Michelangelo returned five months later, Florence had
already lost nearly all of its territory and the imperial troops were
encamped on the heights around the city. In vain he now fortified
San Miniato as well as he could and made the famous campanile,
which he protected with layers of woolen mattresses, a look-out
post for Florentine snipers.
Florence surrendered in August i530. The pope's commis-
sioner general, Baccio Valori, emerged on higher orders as dictator
At that time, 1529, Margaret of Austria was only nine years old. She was mar-
ried to Alessandro, Duke of Florence, in i536; a year later the Duke was mur-
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 241

and executioner. In the end Charles V had to put a stop to the

pope's vengeance. An example of Clement's cruelty is his behavior
toward the monk Fra Benedetto da Foiano, whose fiery sermons
during the siege had helped to keep up Florentine morale. The
pope had him carried off to Rome and immured in a dungeon be-
neath Sant' Angelo, where he was slowly starved to death, his
ration of bread and water being reduced day by day.
With the pope too Michelangelo got off with a scare. Clement
had been subjected to every possible humiliation. He had seen
Rome go up in flames, Florence wrested from the Medici dynasty.
Now he lived to see that dynasty restored to power. What he
wanted was to see it firmly anchored in the memory of people who
were attached to art and culture. To this end he needed the one
man whose works were sure of immortality.
What matter that this man had but recently built bastions and
fired cannon against the allies of the very house he was now to
glorify? The pope's eyes were fixed only on his goal, and Michel-
angelo was an indispensable means for reaching it. Not enough
that the pope was unwilling to see him penalized in any way-he
instructed his emissaries in Florence to win him over by flattery.
That meant he had to be rid of the work on the Julius tomb.
The suit by the heirs was based on the contract of i516. The agreed
term had long since elapsed. Michelangelo now declared he was
ready to resume the work against payment of 8,ooo scudi-a pro-
posal that could scarcely be taken seriously. Even the pope, who
took Michelangelo's side, told him that he must be out of his mind
if he thought the heirs, who for some thirty years had seen noth-
ing whatever in return for all the money they had invested in the
monument, would now begin anew with a large payment.
A new contract was signed. For the money already paid in ad-
vance the monument was to be delivered in reduced size. Michel-
angelo promised to have all the materials in his possession taken
from Florence to Rome-statues, rough-dressed blocks and all-
and to pay 2,000-3,000 florins to other masters to supply what was
242 Michelangelo
At last the difficulties seemed to be out of the way. The under-
standing heirs were content to accept this quite imperfect solution.


Suddenly, Michelangelo again began to balk. He was willing,

he declared, to pay other sculptors to take over the tomb; but he
would not have the figures he had begun or finished shipped from
Florence to Rome. The heirs quite naturally demanded that he
finish what was already in the workshop on the Via Mozza in
Florence; and Sebastiano del Piombo, whose correspondence with
Michelangelo had been interrupted since 1525, but who was al-
ways willing to do his best, proposed to him in 1531 that he should
send at least a few works from Florence, to reassure the heirs and
show them his good will.
But apparently Michelangelo, despite his pledged word, felt
an insurmountable revulsion against incorporating into the tomb
the two Captives originally meant for it, or the Victory group. He
said he no longer wished to have anything to do with the work on
the monument and only wanted to buy his way out.
Judging by Sebastiano's letters, he seems to have had a curious
fear that he would be held responsible for lesser portions of the
monument, done by others, if he accepted overall supervision of
the work. Sebastiano found it necessary to assure him that his work
was instantly recognizable and that there was no possibility of
Things had reached the point where in Michelangelo's mind
the tomb had become the curse of his life ( maledizione). He knew
that if the case with the heirs came to court he was bound to
lose. His sole remaining hope was the pope, whose power to join
and sunder extended into heaven.
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 243
Letters by Benvenuto della Volpaia of January 1532 show that
Michelangelo intended to go to Rome to speak to the pope. Volpaia,
son of a well-known mechanic and clock-maker in Florence, of-
fered to get him a room in the Belvedere, where His Holiness
had assigned quarters to Volpaia and whither the pope came
daily to visit him and his brother. Michelangelo did not take up
the offer, and on February 24 Sebastiano del Piombo wrote that
he really need not come to Rome, unless it were to look after his
house and workshop, which were in a state of dissolution. The
pope, Sebastiano said, was Michelangelo's sincere friend and had
long since forgiven the artist his participation in the defense of
Florence. Sebastiano also speaks of efforts to assuage the Duke
of Urbino about the constant delay in the work on the Julius
The duke's confidant, Hieronimo Staccoli, stubbornly stuck to
his guns. Sebastiano reminded him that "Michelangelos do not
grow on bushes and that we scarcely have men to maintain his
work, let alone finish it." There were negotiations with Giovan
Maria della Porta, the duke's ambassador in Rome, with Clement
personally taking part in every session and always siding with
Giovanni Mini, uncle of Antonio, Michelangelo's pupil, ad-
dressed a letter to Baccio Valori, apparently for submission to the
pope, which shows how deeply the artist's health was affected dur-
ing these nerve-wracking negotiations. From the fall of 1530 to late
i533 he worked incessantly on the monuments in the sacristy of
San Lorenzo. Giovanni Mini wrote:
"Michelangelo is not long for this life, unless measures for his
welfare are taken. He is working very hard, eats little and poorly
and sleeps even less. He is suffering from two ailments, in the head
[headache, vertigo] and in the heart. Neither is incurable, since
he has a strong constitution. As for his head, Our Lord the Pope
should give him dispensation from working in the sacristy [of San
Lorenzo, the Medici chapel] in the winter, the air there being bad
244 Michelangelo
for him. As for his heart, the best remedy would be if His Holiness
succeeded in putting in order the matter with the Duke of Ur-
In another letter Mini suggests that melancholy will put Michel-
angelo in his grave. Anyone who would rid him of his obligations,
Mini says, would have Michelangelo for his slave for the rest of
his life. The pope, on November 21, 1531, in consequence sent his
sculptor a breve ordering him under penalty of excommunication
to put aside all work but the most necessary on the Medici monu-
ments and to take better care of his health.
Sebastiano wrote anew that the pope loved him and called
him amico. The pope was told of uncomplimentary things Michel-
angelo allegedly said of him. Clement merely replied: "Michel-
angelo is wrong; I have never done him injury (Michelangelo a
torto; non li feci mai ingiuria) ."
Again and again Sebastiano emphasized how very little was
asked of the artist in order to put an end to the ordeal of the Julius
tomb: "None torment you but yourself-I mean your great renown
and the grandeur of your work. I do not say this to flatter you. We
cannot satisfy the opposing party without showing it the merest
shadow of you. It would seem to me that you could readily do
some drawings or models, leaving the execution to some master of
your choosing. But there must be a shadow of your own self. Once
you take the matter in hand, it will prove to be trifling. You need
not do anything, yet you will seem to be doing everything. But
remember that the work must be done in your shadow."


Responding to the pope's request, Michelangelo traveled to

Rome and a new contract was concluded. On April 30, 1532, Della
Porta happily wrote the Duke of Urbino he had made a new agree-
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 245
ment with Michelangelo the day before, which he would like the
duke to confirm within two months. There was to be no further
talk of the 8,ooo florins the artist had already received. There would
be a new model and the tomb would be done within three years,
calculated from August 1. Michelangelo would utilize whatever
he had begun or finished for the purpose in his workshops in
Florence and Rome. Six statues were to be his own work. The rest
would be done by competent masters. The whole cost of the work,
at least 2,000 florins, would be borne by the artist.
As we can see, this was a settlement by mutual compromise.
Michelangelo assumed overall direction, agreed to deliver to the
duke the drawings for the monument he had withheld before,
promised to deliver his statues, which he had also withheld be-
fore. For the first time too a place was designated where the monu-
ment was to be (and was in fact) installed-the church of San
Pietro in Vincoli.
But scarcely had the recalcitrant artist returned to Florence
when he suffered a new relapse. Condivi enlightens us as to the
reason. We know how Michelangelo was in the habit of playing off
the pope's claims on him against the Duke of Urbino and his peo-
ple-he could not finish the Julius tomb so long as he had the
unfinished monuments for the Medici dukes on his back. Now he
conceived the idea of turning the tables and playing off his obliga-
tions to the Duke of Urbino against the pope, to persuade the lat-
ter to allow him to leave Florence and take up residence in Rome.
For with all that had happened in Florence, Michelangelo felt very
insecure there. The city was ruled with barbaric cruelty by Ales-
sandro de' Medici, who made no secret of his dislike for Michel-
angelo and his desire for making the artist suffer.
Michelangelo got the men from Urbino to state he had received
several thousand florins more from the duke than was actually
the case-so that he might claim before the pope that his increased
obligation compelled him to live in Rome. But either from indiffer-
ence or incomprehension of the ruse, the additional few thousand
florins were incorporated into the contract in Urbino, and now
246 Michelangelo
Michelangelo had fallen into the very trap he had intended to set
for the pope. With some justification he maintained he had been
deceived by the agreement and again lapsed into idleness.
Yet the pope too at this time had conceived the desire of bring-
ing him to Rome for good, for he had earmarked a big commission
for Michelangelo there, the painting of the Last Judgment in the
Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was fascinated by the magnitude of
the task and (according to Condivi) was able to work on the Julius
tomb only in secret.
Just then, on September 26, 1534, Clement died, the last Medici
of Cosimo's line. Whatever evil this pope may have wrought on
various citizens of Florence and on Michelangelo's close friends,
his attitude toward the artist himself had always been exemplary.
Neither he nor, among his predecessors, Leo ever resented Michel-
angelo's negligence and lack of consideration, indeed, not even his
open enmity.

But the pope's death changed the artist's life completely. So
long as Clement lived, his protection was likely to curb the hatred
of Alessandro de' Medici. Now that he was gone, Michelangelo had
to be prepared for anything, if he remained in Florence. So before
the year 1534 was ended he left his home town, never again to re-
The three-year term granted the artist to finish the Julius tomb
went by without a finger having been lifted. Paul III had ascended
the papal throne. Michelangelo had drawn the cartoon for the
Last Judgment while Clement was still alive; and it is rather sur-
prising to learn that he is supposed to have been startled by a
rumor that the pope wanted him near. That, after all, was unavoid-
able if he worked in the Vatican. Perhaps Michelangelo was ap-
prehensive over a new relationship of dependence.
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 247
Condivi hints that he thought of emigrating to Genoa or Ur-
bino. It is true that an abbey belonging to his friend, the Bishop
of Aleria, lay in Genoese territory and that Carrara was near by
too. Yet Michelangelo was tied to Rome. Urbino seems an even
more improbable refuge. Duke Francesco Maria, long hostile to
Michelangelo, reigned there.
And in truth, only another year elapsed before Paul III laid
thorough hold of Mfohelangelo. Farnese, who had waited thirty
years for the tiara, insisted he had yearned all that time for the day
when he would have Michelangelo at his disposal. On September
1, i535, he appointed him supreme architect, sculptor and painter
of the apostolic palace.
Instantly he released his protege from the pressure of the con-
tract. If it had not been fulfilled, this was, so he testified, because
Michelangelo had been prevented by excusable difficulties (per
giusti e legitimi impedimenti). And at last the ill-starred artist's
fortunes changed for the better. Duke Francesco Maria died in
i538 and his son Guidobaldo, in contrast to his father a friend of
art and literature, freed Michelangelo of all his oppressive obliga-
tions while he was painting the Last Judgment, expressing only
the hope that once it was finished he would redouble his efforts
in completing the tomb for the great Rovere pope.
But when Paul III gave Michelangelo another painting com-
mission-the two murals for the Cappella Paolina, to represent the
martyrdom of the great Apostle Peter and the conversion of the
great Apostle Paul-work on the Julius tomb was again postponed.


On August 20, i542, the fifth and last contract for the Julius
tomb was drafted. It was to include the Moses statue, flanked by
Rachel and Leah, allegories on religious contemplation and good
248 Michelangelo
works (vita contemplativa and vita activa); and three other fig-
ures to be only designed by Michelangelo, while their execution
was to be left to his assistant, Raffaello da Montelupo, though the
right to do them himself was expressly left within the artist's
Among the figures of the upper story the Sibyl is the most pleas-
ing. She is distantly related to the sibyls of his youth, while her
counterpart, the Prophet, is altogether devoid of interest. (Both
statues are by Montelupo.) Michelangelo worked on the Madonna,
in the center, as late as i537-it was then finished by assistants in
the workshop of Montelupo.
To see the figure of Julius II by Maso di Bosco is saddening.
Michelangelo had promised to retouch the face; but nothing in
this marble hulk is by his hand.
/,....- The Moses was installed in i542. It was a figure that had long
fascinated Michelangelo. The legendary prophet stood before his
( eye as the liberator of his people, more properly, its founder. He
had wanted to invest him with an excess of strength; but in
keeping with the religiosity of the Counter Reformation it was to
be power in the service of the Almighty rather than power for
In the style of his youth, Michelangelo shows us the seated
figure from the front, its head sharply turned to one side. Moses'
flaring anger at the faithlessness of his people provides Michelan-
gelo with the motive for the contrast between the right and left
halves of his body. There is in this figure much that is strange,
above all an overwhelming surge of power not even remotely
equaled by any subsequent representation of Moses.
Michelangelo sensed that the power of a popular leader rests
largely in his physical appearance, so that in such a personality
temperament is more important than reason. Hence his figure is
marke<l by passion, fervor, wrath, rather than by superior intel-
lect. The prognathous jaw of Moses is almost animalic, and Michel-
angelo follows the Vulgate in giving the prophet horns. The great,
braided beard seeks to invest Moses with the primitive savagery
The Tragedy of the Julius Tomb 249
of ancient Asiatic kings. The muscular arms with the prominent
veins are bare, though the figure is otherwise clothed.
This sepulchral monument, dragging on through an entire
lifetime, ultimately turned out not to mark a grave at all. Julius II
is buried in St. Peter's. The monument in San Pietro in Vincoli is
only a memorial, a patchwork that honors neither the pope nor the
ist, despite its great central figure.
The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

THE SISTINE CHAPEL is not a free-standing structure with

outer walls of its own, access to which is gained through a lobby.
It is a rectangular space, twice as long as it is wide and fifty feet
high. The impression upon entering it is that it is relatively narrow,
rather long and of immense height up to its arched ceiling. It is
built right into the apostolic palace in the Vatican.
Its walls are smooth. Its round-arched windows, six along each
side, are relatively small and high. Directly below them a project-
ing cornice supports a narrow balcony. Above the windows the
ceiling vault rises gently.
At the time Sixtus IV ascended the papal throne, the chapel
The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel 251

was a plain, bare hall. It had been built by a Florentine, Giovanni

dei Dolci. It was the first Rovere pope who decided to make it into
a pleasing and inviting house of God. He summoned the six best
Florentine and Umbrian painters of his time, and in 1481 they em-
barked on the band of frescoes girdling the hall, consisting of fif-
teen great paintings from Bible history.
These men were to paint the lives of Moses and Jesus, filling
their historical pictures with landscapes and buildings, with which
they were familiar. It was understood too that they would repre-
sent their contemporaries as they walked and stood, as participants
in the sacred events unrolling before the eye of the beholder. Above
this sequence of crowded paintings, thirty-two figures of popes
were set between the windows.
The most important themes were assigned to the highly
esteemed Perugino. He painted the altar picture, the Ascension
of Mary, and a main picture, Jesus Giving the Keys to St. Peter.
Though given to the somewhat stereotyped repetition of a soulful
expression in his figures, Perugino knew how to invest their features
with an air of tenderness and unfathomable depth. His outlines
have the effect of a simple, quiet melody. His art was marked by
a soothing calm, his landscapes by delicacy of mood, and he was
skilled like no other in blending the contours of his figures with
those of his buildings. None minded that he might translate a scene
from the Jordan region to a Roman square with temple and tri-
umphal arch.
Another painter who had decorated the hall under Sixtus IV
was Michelangelo's first preceptor, Domenico Ghirlandajo. Against
a broad river landscape, framed by steep hills set with giant col-
umns and towers, he painted half a hundred Italians in the dress
of his time, grouped to the right and left about a fine but vacant
Christ figure, a broad halo about its head. Kneeling respectably
before this Christ are two venerable graybeards with folded hands,
Peter and his brother Andrew, both of them likewise bearing
haloes, while Jesus with raised index finger ordains them apostles.
They kneel ceremoniously like prelates before the pope. There is
252 Michelangelo
in Jesus not a spark of illumination that might make hiin see the
fishermen as men of the future; nor do these expressionless gentle-
men with the radiant crowns about their necks betray a trace of
emotion, such as might have overwhelmed them in the presence
of the godhead in human form.
Three of the frescoes are from the hand of Botticelli; yet if
there was anything out of character with this sensitive and re-
fined painter of femininity, it was surely Biblical art in the monu-
mental style. One might have thought, moreover, that the pope
would have had nothing to do with him. Sixtus, after all, had had a
hand in the Pazzi conspiracy, while Botticelli had painted the
gruesome picture of the hanged on the wall of the Bargello, the
removal of which the pope had demanded for two long years.
But Botticelli was famous and the pope wanted him. The painter
who had glorified the Medici was now to do the same thing for
Sixtus IV; and Botticelli did what was asked of him. On his fresco,
the Healing of the Leper, Christ, spurning Satan's temptation,
stands not on a mountain top but on the pinnacle of a Roman
basilica, with the fa9ade of the great leper hospital, Santo Spirito,
which the pope had recently built and which shows his name.
The best of these pictures are surely those by Perugino, Ghir-
landajo, Botticelli and Luca Signorelli, with their straightforward
representation of reality and their pleasure in fresh, strong tints.
A confusion of color and movement, a welter of well-intentioned
figures, they fit into no overall pattern. For the fifteenth century,
nevertheless, they constituted good, honest craftsmanship, with
which one was well-pleased. Sixtus IV consecrated the chapel on
August i5, i483, the year before his death.
The tempestuous mind of Michelangelo can have scarcely felt
anything but condescension toward this kind of art. He may have
made allowances for it, even though it lacked all sweep and pas-
sion. But now he had been given the task of painting the great vault
above these pictures, only a few years in the past yet already dim
and remote. As though for posterity, he made this note:
"Today, May 10, i508, I, Michelagniolo, sculptor, have received
The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel 253
from His Holiness, Pope Julius II, 500 florins, paid to me by
Messer Carlino, chamberlain, and Messer Carlo Albizzi as an ad-
vance for the painting which I shall today begin in the chapel of
Pope Sixtus, according to the agreement drafted by the Monsignor
of Pavia, which I have signed in my own hand."


Entering the Sistine Chapel for the first time today, one feels
a sense of dismay in beholding Italy's most famous painting at a
height of fifty feet. One simply cannot take it in, cannot immerse
oneself in it without bending the head back so far that it hurts.
This difficulty in viewing conveys an idea of the immense physical
difficulties the painter had to overcome in his work.
His first concern must have been a scaffold from which he
might paint. Bramante had had holes made in the vault, from
which such a scaffold was suspended by ropes. On this uncertain
support the artist was expected to stand or lie. The first question
Michelangelo asked was what he was supposed to do about the
holes. Clearly they had to be filled in and painted over.
The first thing Michelangelo did was to have Bramante's scaf-
fold dismantled. Next he pondered on how to devise an altogether
new method. To support the scaffold from below with an under-
structure of beams was out of the question, since that would have
meant that the chapel was not available for services.
Both Condivi and Vasari explain that the new scaffold was so
designed that its strength increased with the load it bore, from
which we may conclude that Michelangelo employed a keystone
arch system. Apparently the projecting cornice, alone or in com-
bination with pillars along the walls, provided the support for
obliquely running beams separated at the top by blocks of wood
driven between them like wedges.
254 Michelangelo
On this support, then, was mounted the flooring of boards that
formed the scaffold proper. It is said this invention by Michel-
angelo was so ingenious that Bramante later used the idea in the
construction of St. Peter's. Yet surely this vantage point, to which
the artist had to ascend each day on steep ladders, could scarcely
have been very comfortable.
Michelangelo rejected as tedious and unimaginative the pope's
proposal to divide the ceiling into twelve panels with a simple
decoration of lines and garlands, limiting the number of figures to
be represented to the twelve apostles along the upper sides. He
decided to ignore the actual ceiling structure and hold together the
immense curved surface by means of painted pseudo architecture,
using no other decorative element but the human body. The total
effect was to be given quiet unity, indeed, a certain solemn har-
mony, by means of carefully matched tints.
The ceiling is a barrel vault, cut into by the apertures and dor-
mers of the windows. Michelangelo paid no attention to the trian-
gular form of the wedge-shaped areas, simply using them for the
marble-like thrones of his sibyls and prophets. He introduced a de-
gree of variety and life such as had never been seen before, using
different scales for his various groups. The prophets and sibyls,
seven and five in number, are of heroic size, and measured by their
great standard, the other figures appear more or less small. There
is a sharp contrast too between the three-dimensional representa-
tions of human figures, in realistic color or in bronze, and the
crowds of figures in the marginal spaces, who do not emerge so
immediately as living beings. The sense of tension is effectively
enhanced, finally, by the fact that the nude youths, seated at the
four comers of each of the smaller panels, are oriented in a direc-
tion different from that of the pictures in those panels, so that the
two types of groups cannot be viewed at once.
The narrow ceiling oblong Michelangelo divided into nine
segments of different size. These nine panels, four larger and five
smaller ones, he framed in an imaginary architecture. The four
larger ones occupy the full width of the vault, while the five
The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel 255
smaller ones leave enough room at the four corners for the nude
youths, each of whom is seated on a seemingly solid pedestal. There
are twenty of them, and the spaces between them are filled with
bronze-colored medallions.
Since the chapel decorations were commissioned by a Rovere,
the heraldic symbol of the Rovere, the oak, naturally had to come to
the fore on the ceiling. Oak leaves could be used in the form of
garlands and wreaths. Hence Michelangelo gave his nude youths
the task of decorating the chapel with oak leaves. To this he joined
an element from ancient triumphal arches, the medallion in the
form of a bronze shield.
The nude young men, seated on their stools of stone, are busy
drawing a long ribbon through holes in the bronze shields and
winding it with oak leaves, thus transforming it into a garland. In
one place bags with oak leaves are brought to the scene, at another
the leaves burst from an open bag, at still another the garland
is finished-until, with the progress of the work, Michelangelo
gradually loses interest in the motive.


Unfamiliar with the fresco technique, Michelangelo, once he

had finished his first cartoons, sent to Florence for a number of
young collaborators. They were eager to serve as his assistants.
There was Francesco Granacci, the friend of his youth; a certain
Jacopo lndaco, a fellow student in Ghirlandajo's school; Giuliano
Bugiardini, who had joined the school of Bertoldo together with
Granacci and Michelangelo; Bastiano ( Aristotile) da Sangallo, al-
ready mentioned, who had joined Michelangelo after having been
a disciple of Perugino; and three other painters who knew the
fresco technique.
They began to do the first fresco after the master's cartoon.
256 Michelangelo
But Michelangelo soon grew dissatisfied with the results. He de-
cided to part with his painter friends. Since he could not very well
send them packing, having summoned them himself, he resorted
to the curious stratagem of having them one day simply find the
doors to the chapel locked. They remained so until the painters
took the hint and departed for home.
Michelangelo set to work alone, assisted only by his pigment-
grinder. Scraping away what the others had done, he began with
the picture of the Great Flood. But when he was barely half-
finished, his colors mildewed and blistered, so that the figures were
almost unrecognizable. In deep dismay he went to Julius and said:
"Did I not tell Your Holiness at once that painting is not my
profession? All I have painted is destroyed. If you do not believe
me, send someone to inspect the work."
The pope dispatched Giuliano da San Gallo, who discovered
at once where the trouble lay. The plaster used by the still inexperi-
enced Michelangelo had been too damp. His old mentor gave him
the necessary technical advice, and Michelangelo locked himself
into the chapel, barring all spectators and assistance, to do the
work that is without peer.


It is necessary to dwell at greater length on the technical diffi-

culties. Before fresco painting can be applied to a wall, the wall
must receive a ground or mortar consisting of coarse sand and
white plaster or lime, troweled to give a smooth surface. Over this
comes a thin finish coat or wash of lime and fine sand. While this
is still damp and soft, the drawing is transferred to the wall, often
by simple tracing, and the painting proceeds with pigments mixed
with lime water. The painter does as much as he can in a day's
time, and the next day the unused finished coat is scraped away,
The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel 257
to make room for a fresh coat on which the painter continues his
work. The pigments become chemically bonded to the plaster,
the soluble lime surrounding each particle and turning into in-
soluble calcium carbonate under the influence of the carbon
dioxide in the air.
The painter cannot make revisions, for the damp plaster under-
goes chemical change the very same day. He must have his com-
position fully planned and execute it with unfailing precision. If
he wants to change anything, he must scrape away the old and
start afresh. Hence not only outlines but tints must be set before
a beginning is made.
The first picture to be done was the one at the near end, the
Drunkenness of Noah, and most probably it was directly followed
by the pictures in the two adjoining corner-spandrels, David's Vic-
tory Over Goliath, and Judith and Holofernes. These pictures be-
long together insofar as they share a certain relief style. They are
the creations of a painter coming from sculpture. In another sense
the picture showing the sons of Noah with their drunken father
must be mentioned in the same breath with that of the Great Flood
and the next panel, Noah's Offering. For these three paintings, the
first to be executed, have one thing in common out of the whole
sequence. Michelangelo did not yet know how to judge the size
he must give to his figures so that they could be plainly discerned
from below. Despite their respectable dimensions, the figures in
these three frescoes are too small.
The moment the artist recognized this deficiency, he applied an
altogether different scale to his figures and began to strip down
his compositions to the utmost simplicity. Indeed, with the progress
of the work we see an unmistakable tendency for the figures in the
various paintings, the nude youths at the corners and even the
prophets and sibyls on their thrones to grow larger and larger un-
der Michelangelo's hands.
The Drunkenness of Noah was still a painted relief. The swift
rate at which the artist's purely pictorial faculties were developing
is demonstrated in the Great Flood, which purely as a painting
258 Michelangelo
is a creation of high merit, indeed, one of the most crowded
frescoes Michelangelo ever did, except for the much later Last
Judgment. Its carefully worked out perspective pierces the wall
surface, so to speak. The ceiling spews out desperately struggling
knots of figures in several successive planes.
The image of the deluge was one with which Michelangelo
was familiar. Great floods had visited Rome in his time. Late in
1500 he had been an eye-witness in Rome when the flood waters
swirled into houses and churches and even cut off the Vatican
He may have been too close to his subject; for he dissolved the
scene into several episodes, each with a throng of people. The
sizes and visibility of his figures, moreover, declines with the
distance of the plane in which they are located.
In the foreground groups of nude or half-clothed people strug-
gle for a foothold on a bare rock rising above the water and
barely offering enough room for those who have already gained
it. Fear and movement pervade the scene, which is dotted with
finely conceived groups-a nude, reclining mother with her two
children, two lovers embracing. One family has fled on its mule,
from which the father hands down a child into the mother's arms.
In the middle ground is a fine group that is pure sculpture-
a muscular father carrying his unconscious, grown son. He strides
heavily, the son's fair face drooping against his own head with
its even more magnificent and virile features.
To the right another bare rock shelf rears from the swirling
waters. Here a crowd of refugees has sought brief refuge, spread-
ing a cloth overhead that does makeshift service as a tent. In the
middle a boat is struggling against wind and tide. The passengers
fear it will capsize, for drowning men cling to the gunwales in
an effort to save their lives. Those inside the boat strike at the
swimmers to make them let go. In the distance the Ark floats safe.
In one porthole one sees Noah with his white beard, his arm out-
stretched in horror.
The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel 259
Viewed from below, this whole splendid painting, a kind of
prologue to the Last Judgment in that it too runs the gamut of
terror, becomes no more than a confusing blur of color, in which
the figures can be made out only with difficulty.
The last of the paintings with figures in small scale is Noah's
Offering, somewhat unquiet in composition, but masterful in its
vivid action and the beauty of its lines. Henceforward the master
simplified his style, enlarged his figures and soon reached a state
of pure creative exuberance. Sure of his mastery both over his art
and over the mysteries of fresco-painting, he was able to surrender
to his genius, lie flat on his back and paint away.

The Fall of Man with its dual action introduces the next
On this fresco the Tree of Knowledge with its foliage joins
and divides two successive scenes, an archaic form of representa-
tion here given new life and grandeur of style. To the left the
first pair being tempted, to the right the same pair being expelled.
The halves are equally expressive in the play of muscles and fea-
tures; but the Eve on the left, seated beneath the rich foliage of
the tree and reaching up her arm, is the fairer. She reaches for the
fruit proffered by the temptress, whose beautiful body ends in
double serpent's coils twining about the trunk of the tree. Eve's
body retains its attitude of communing with Adam, turned toward
him and away from the serpent; but her charming and beautiful
head turns toward the temptress, giving the full, youthful body an
aspect that enchants the eye of the beholder. Added to this is the
harmonious interplay among the lines of the three outstretched
arms, Adam's, Eve's and the temptress'.
The Tree of Knowledge is not at the precise center of the fresco,
but a little to the right. This leaves no empty space above, where
a fully clothed angel hovers, sword in outstretched left hand, in-
voking the curse Adam seeks to avert with his hands and whole
attitude. Eve, vith an incomparable expression of grief and horror,
260 Michelangelo
cowers with rounded back, arms pressed to her body, hand to one
ear, shaking herself, so to speak, and seeking protection from the
divine wrath behind the taller and heavier Adam, as they stride
away sadly.

For Michelangelo the Creation of Man was an opportunity to
give meaning and value to life itself, to its culmination, the mar-
velous, inexhaustible subject of art, the human body, in particular
the male body, whose beauty affected him most deeply. Quite
naturally the Creation of Man is at once his simplest and richest
composition, the most perfect painting he ever produced. .
Adam is a youth of about twenty, just awakening to life. His
attitude is surpassingly beautiful and natural. Resting on his right
forearm, he supports his outstretched left arm on sharply bent
knee. As he did invariably when emphasizing masculine beauty,
Michelangelo gave him a wide, arching thorax, while his fair
features carry a dreamy expression of childlike trust, surprised
and questioning.
Like a revelation of earthly and heavenly exaltation in its
divine richness, the picture is counterbalanced by a swirling,
cloudlike mantle with the sublime figure of the Almighty soaring
toward Adam. God is borne up, as it were, by horizontally floating
angels. Over him little angels are comfortably nestled into the
gently gliding cloak, and his one arm rests over the shoulders
of a particularly handsome young female angel, who looks upon
the miracle about to be performed with an eloquent and attentive
expression. Michelangelo scorns all frills. The ground at the rim
of the world on which Adam rests is as bare as he is and as are the
angels of heaven. Only the figure of the Creator is covered with
The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel 261

a diaphanous garment that leave his strong, finely shaped limbs

The rhythm of this unforgettable picture is as sweeping and
harmonious as that of which Beethoven speaks when he said music
must strike sparks from the human soul. It is like a mass by Pales-
trina, in which the artfully interwoven counterpoint of voices
still allows both words and melody to come through.' /
Michelangelo took but one day each to paint the head of Adam
and that of God the Father, a firmly formed whole despite the
play of brow, nostrils and face muscles.
The Creation of woman is a somewhat quieter affair. In cre-
ating Adam, God soared through the cosmos with his heavenly
train. Creating Eve, he stands on the earth, solitary and shrouded.
The God who creates Adam is mature and virile, with no trace of
age, but the God who creates Eve is an old man, wise and powerful.
"o/ith the sure hand of genius, Michelangelo limns the differ-
ence in the nature of man and woman at the moment they are
awakened to life. The Creator, with a calm gesture of his hand,
calls forth Eve from the side of Adam, who is fast asleep. The artist
makes ingenious use of the legend of Eve's creation from Adam's
rib. She is conjured up from the bend in Adam's body, where the
lowest rib marks the division between thorax and abdomen.
There is a noteworthy contrast between the earth-born man,
formed directly from the clay, still only dimly aware of himself,
turning in quiet wonder toward the heavenly appearance; and
Eve, created from man's body, fleshly in origin, humbly grasping
her situation at once, bowing with outstretched, folded hands to
worship her Creator.
The mother of mankind to come, she is rich in body, though
her bent-over attitude can scarcely be described as graceful. For
the effect intended by Michelangelo it was necessary. He wished
to represent the very movements of creation. As between the
sleeping Adam and the firm-standing godhead, Eve, in a pose un-
mistakably expressing her own creation, was to draw the be-
holder's attention.

To represent the Creator a second time suspended in the air,

after having painted him in the picture of the Creation of Man in
the likeness of a mighty cloud soarin g through the empyrean,
would have been impossible for anym:.e else. Michelangelo accom-
plished the impossible with ease. ,
On the next picture of the Creaiion God hovers over the waters
and then above the land, giving them his benison. How marvel-
ously this picture is drawn, yet idyllic in all its power! The power-
ful shoulders of the Creator are modeled in a light half-shadow;
his face with the flowing white beard has assumed an expression
of superhuman loving-kindness and creativity; from his hands
raised in blessing life flows down over land and sea, as though he
bore two cornucopias. By the art of foreshortening, which Michel-
angelo mastered with ease, the lower part of the Creator's body
is almost invisible. A strong light falls on the two charming lads
hovering by his side and on brow and cheeks of the third, smaller
one, in the middle, whose body is hidden behind God's up to the
We have watched Michelangelo in Carrara, falling prey to the
raptures of his imagination, wandering about the marble quarries,
the great pure blocks filling his mind with hundreds of ideas for
statues and reliefs. Here we see him engulfed in the raptures of
creation itself, one to whom nothing is impossible, to whom diffi-
culties are nothing more than a challenge. We see him at the height
of his being, unconquerable, irresistible, creating a world of his
own like the godhead he never tired of depicting anew.
There is little resemblance between the hovering Creator,
quietly blessing plants and beasts as he gives them life, and the
swifter-winged God who creates Adam, and again the star-making
Magus who rushes through the vault of heaven. Storming onward
The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel 263
with both arms outstretched, little attendant genies in the folds
of his thunder cloud, he calls forth the sun from chaos. At the mere
behest of his right hand it begins to shine as he assigns it its place,
while at the same time an imperious gesture of his pointing left,
shadowy but sharply limned against the bright air, beckons the
moon to assume her place as earth's satellite.
Admirable the distribution of light and shade on the figures as
in the drapes of the flowing robe, about the newly created heavenly
bodies as on God himself, veering and rushing on through space.
So carefully is it all modeled through the interplay of light and
varying degrees of shade that even in black-and-white reproduc-
tion the effect is highly dramatic. Long since past is the time when
Michelangelo felt himself solely the sculptor, balked at having a
brush pressed into his hand. A painter he is now, as though he had
never been anything else-the arch-painter among painters.
Michelangelo arrives at last at the beginning of his epic of the
world's creation, the final picture which becomes the beholder's
first. God hovers upright, visible only to the knees. His lean but
powerful body is bent back, slightly twisted, as though he were
about to describe a great arc. With outstretched arms, palms
turned outward, he sunders light from darkness.
This painting, in point of time the last, in point of content the
first, strikes the keynote for the entire ceiling decoration. Of the
nine large panels on the ceiling it is the only one with but one
figure-the Creator, from whom all issues forth. None is about him
or near him, before him or behind him-he is the beginning. There
are other figures on the ceiling whose inner loneliness is marked.
Only this one is truly alone even outwardly. This is God who is the
prime force, the first cause, the patrix. He is the archetype, That
Which Was First.
According to Condivi, Julius came often to see how the work
was progressing. He climbed the ladders, took Michelangelo's
proffered hand to gain the scaffold. Things moved much too slowly
to suit the pope. He champed at the bit to see the painting fin-
ished. He asked Michelangelo one day when this would be. 'When
264 Michelangelo
I am able," came the laconic answer. The pope was unmoved.
When Michelangelo had reached the point of our narrative, with
all the pictures in the central oblong done, the pope, unable to
gain a proper perspective from his vantage point beside the artist,
demanded that the scaffold be taken down, so that he might be
able to judge the effect. In all likelihood he wanted to hear what
the Romans might have to say as well.
Not surprisingly, Michelangelo refused. Not even half of his
work was done, and he knew better than to show unfinished work
even to fools. "Would you like me to throw you off the scaffold?"
the pope thundered. Michelangelo had no choice but to give in.
The scaffold was dismantled and the chapel thrown open to
the curious and the connoisseurs alike on November 1, 1509. All
Rome crowded inside to see what the solitary painter had created
in less than a year's time. These people loved great art, and when
they saw it, their enthusiasm knew no bounds.
There now ensued a pause in Michelangelo's work on the ceil-
ing decorations, though it cannot have lasted long. One of Michel-
angelo's letters of August 1510 says: "My life here goes on as usual
and by the end of next week I expect to have my painting [in the
chapel] done, that is, the parts with which I have begun [in addi-
tion to the center panels, the prophets and sibyls]. And when I
have unveiled that, I hope to get some money and shall further-
more try to get a month's leave in Florence."
It is almost inconceivable to us that the energy of anyone
should suffice to do so much work in so short a time.
There are, first of all, the twenty nude youths, known to some
art historians as "The Slaves." Their ultimate purpose, in the art-
ist's mind, was to give him occasion to display beauty, to represent
the appealing qualities of the male body, strong, graceful, well-
built, in the glow and splendor of youth. The predominant theme
is virility-even in so heart-warming a figure as the handsome
Achilles (to the left, above Jeremiah), lost in melancholy thought.
Occasionally the artist, in an experimental mood, was tempted
The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel 265
to vary his subject, to go to the borderline where male and female
features merge, as in the fair head, the body to which has almost
entirely vanished (to the left, above the Delphic Sibyl). Its expres-
sion is as rare with Michelangelo as it is common with Leonardo
-the form and features of a young man with the expression of
a young woman.
Among the figures in this rich ceiling decoration are some that
appertain to pillars or columns, couples to 11 an interstice, crea-
tures but half alive, statues or statuettes, now of marble, now of
bronze. But the twenty nude youths in the vault do not belong
among their number. Even though they may not entirely live
up to the Canon of Polycletus, they are living, breathing Greek
Sprung from the imagination of a Michelangelo drunk with
beauty, they resemble now satyrs, now heroes. One of them will
laugh, rock on his seat, his exuberance bursting out in the swing
of a leg, the dart of a hand. Another will be broad of shoulder, still
another lean, a fourth the embodiment of suppleness. Here is one
earnestly working away at decorating the chapel with oak leaves,
while that one is lost to the world, immersed in his own.
They spring, as we have said, from the inner eye rather than
being portraits. They are the sons of a painter who has returned
to his art by way of sculpture, the sustained study of which has
given him unparalleled assurance in the representation of the
human body sans need for a model.
And indeed, he sometimes vests these his darlings with so
much life of their own that they almost blanket his ne paintings.
Ruthlessly they reach beyond the frames, showing little respect
for the works of art they are meant to serve.
The fervor that vented itself in the creation of these godlike
ceiling figures was the same that later on drove him to worship
an unworthy youth like Febo di Poggio, or an entrancing lad like
Cecchino Bracci, Luigi del Riccio's nephew who died at the age
of teen, or the high-minded young Tommaso Cavalieri.

With his figures of the prophets and sibyls Michelangelo

reached a high point as a painter. In the whole history of art the
figure of man was scarcely ever before depicted so spiritualized.
The very notion of fastening upon the image of the prophet
as a theme was an admirable one. Of course we need not ignore
that earlier Italian artists like Giotto occasionally display a gravity
and inwardness that remind distantly of Michelangelo; nor need
we deny that Ghiberti's small-scale prophets sometimes stand
lost in thought or seem about to preach to the people. That Fra
Angelico's prophets in Orvieto dwell blissfully in paradise has
little to do with the Old Testament. And neither Jacopo della
Quercia's dervishlike prophets nor Melozzo da Forll's beturbaned
ancients in Loreto betray the spirit of ancient Palestine.
Michelangelo instinctively grasped what he had never learned
and could not know. He thought of these men of the poor called
prophets, who were still talked about two or three thousand years
after they lived, as men who must have been altogether extraordi-
And indeed it was the nabi (prophet) alone who distinguished
ancient Israel from Edom, Ammon, Moab and all the other closely
related little tribes clustering about the people who thought of
themselves as chosen. The prophets proved stronger than the
kings. In the end they succumbed only to the ordained priesthood,
to whom they were a thorn in the flesh.
The priest was a man without deeper creative power. He had
his ritual to cling to while the nabi, rather than being Israel's
remembrancer of forgotten truths as whom the pontifical Bible
exegesists tried to stamp him, made his pronouncements from his
own inner self. He was visionary, soothsayer, magus-a poet, half-
The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel 267
mad and half-inspired, who wrote down his visions, thoughts and
imprecations. The prophets' grandeur lay in their wrath over the
injustices men did one another.
From a certain juncture onward, the prophets turned society
topsy-turvy. The humble and the poor were spoken of with warmth
and compassion, while the rich and profligate were scorned with
a passion demonstrating that the prophet was indifferent toward
civilization, championing equality alone.


The prophets Michelangelo painted earliest are those of less

animated demeanor, in the van Zechariah, the venerable, bald-
headed ancient, seen in profile, lost in his reading. His robe is
yellow, with a projecting collar of blue, and he is enveloped in a
cloak of greenish gray. He ignores the two boys peering over his
shoulder from the left, as though waiting for him to give a signal
for some errand. He is thumbing through his book hastily, as
though looking for confirmation of his visions and forebodings .
Joel too is immersed in reading, but his face is turned toward
the beholder as he attentively scans the first part of his parchment
scroll. There is nothing calm about his reading. He is tense, full
of disquiet over what the scripture tells him. His face, apparently
a portrait, reminds of Bramante as he is represented on Raphael's
School of Athens.
The boys behind Joel-perhaps his disciples, for the Bible
often speaks of prophetic schools-stand on either side, and the
one seems to be whispering or calling out to the other. They are
painted from the same models as the boys behind Zechariah.
Joel's dress is meant to please the eye. His tunic is of light violet,
belted in white and held together on the chest by two gold eyelets
under a green hem. A blue sash is bound about the robe above the
268 Michelangelo
waist. A heavy cloak over shoulders and knees frames the figure
in red.
Jeremiah, the grandest of all the prophets, is depicted in the
attitude of deep thought which Michelangelo a quarter-century
later was to give to the statue, Il Pensieroso, in the Medici chapel.

Daniel, in his Sistine ceiling picture, is reading in the Book of

Jeremiah. The great, broad volume lies across his knees, and so
wide apart are his legs that a small nude boy has found place
between them to support the prophetic scripture from below,
reaching around it with a sturdy left hand; for Daniel has momen-
tarily interrupted his reading to make a note on a tablet mounted
obliquely to his right. He alone among the prophets is pictured
in the act of writing by Michelangelo.
Daniel's features are youthful yet wise; but his is not one of
the figures on which the artist has staked his whole being. An
impression of quiet harmony issues from the prophet. The little
boy supporting himself against Daniel's right knee and filling the
space between his covered legs is vastly effective.
The attitude of Ezekiel has a power and grandeur of its own.
The mighty Oriental figure has suddenly wheeled to the right on
its seat with a sudden gesture of the hand, the face with its strong
brow and aquiline nose being seen in profile. His gaze seems fixed
on the whirlwind coming out of the north, the great cloud, the
fire infolding itself, and the brightness therein. For greater em-
phasis the child behind the prophet points outward to where the
vision must be imagined. The gesture of Ezekiel's right hand seems
to express his readiness to hearken to revelation: "And the spirit
entered into me when he spake unto me."
When his eyes move on from Ezekiel to Isaiah, the beholder
feels himself translated to another region of heaven. Isaiah is aloof
from the word, lost in his visions, almost in a trance. Ezekiel's
vision came from without, but Isaiah's revelation is inward, ec-
static. Ezekiel is willpower incarnate, Isaiah pure meditation.
Isaiah's posture holds the eye. His right arm cuts across his
The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel 269
body, holding a book that rests on its spine, while his face is turned
in the opposite direction in which a little genie points with out-
stretched ann; but the real point of fascination is the ineffably
eloquent gesture of the left ann, resting on its elbow. Isaiah's left
hand tells almost as much of what is passing through his soul as
do his features. The movement of the fingers hints that he has
just heard the inner voice. Raphael appropriated this gesture for
the Sappho in his Parnassus, as she sits lost in poetic reverie.
The prophet Jonah, twisting back in his seat, the only naked
figure among the prophets, occupies an entire corner of the
ceiling decoration. Jonah has thrown himself backward and to
the right, while his head is turned to the left, his eyes turned
heavenward. The prophet is exceedingly wroth with God. On Je-
hovah's command he had proclaimed to the city of Niniveh that
it should be overthrown in forty days. But God of a sudden took
pity on the town and spared it. Jonah vehemently reproaches the
Lord with having changed his mind and making a liar of his
prophet. The position of the hands is noteworthy, both index
fingers extended, indicating an argument in the sign language of
the Italians.


The five sibyls that alternate with the seven prophets on the
Sistine ceiling are surely not of lesser worth. Indeed, they are as
memorable as their fellow visionaries of the opposite sex. None of
them, not even the youngest, is conspicuously marked with the
attributes of her sex. None is in the least sensual in expression,
carries even a spark of sex. They are women in whom the eternal
feminine has receded into the background.
Some are of extraordinary beauty, each has a character all her
own. They are meant to be majestic rather than heart-warming,
270 Michelangelo
and even the passing fair ones like the Delphic, the Erythrean, the
Libyan are creatures who have never loved a man-mysterious,
primitive, divinely inspired. All of them exude an air of power.
This is one of the points in which they are distinguished from the
sibyls of Giovanni Pisano in Pistoia.

The four corner pictures at the end walls are not among those
that grip the beholder, much as they may testify to the artist's
great skill. David standing broad-legged over Goliath, about to
strike off the giant's head with a mighty blow of his sword, consti-
tutes a simply organized composition, yet impressive in its drama.
Judith's deed on the opposite corner-spandrel is tripartite in plan.
On the left a sleeping guard is dimly discerned. To the right on
a pallet lies the headless body of Holofernes, still thrashing, left
knee drawn up, right arm thrown high.
It is the central portion that was Michelangelo's main concern.
The figures on either side were apparently meant but to fill the
space. Here we see Judith covering with a cloth the hacked-off
head borne in a basket on the head of her serving-woman, who
lightly bends forward.
The picture of the brazen serpent in a sense anticipates the
painting of the Last Judgment. To the right a crowd of contorted
figures, seeking vainly to evade the dreadful bite of the serpents
raining down from heaven, pushing and shoving with none of the
grandeur of the ancient Laocoon. To the left a single quiet group-
a man supporting his wretched wife, helping her to stretch forth
her bitten hand toward the saving image.
The fourth corner-spandrel, again in tripartite composition, is
far more satisfying in an artistic sense. To the left Esther, Ahas-
uerus and Haman, unmasked by Esther, sit at table. To the right
The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel 271

the king lies sleepless on his couch as he summons Mordecai. In

the center the figure of Haman nailed to the cross, shown in mas-
terful foreshortening.

The children standing two by two to the right and left of

prophets and sibyls are painted to simulate marble relief. There
is always a boy and a girl, children of five or six. The couples on
the pillars rising from either side of the thrones are mirror images
of each other. One can almost see how the cartoon was simply
turned over, transposing the sides.
Yet in detail these figures are anything but uniform. Those
painted first seem to be the most sedate, wholly preoccupied in
holding up the marble lintels with their heads and arms and
taking no notice of one another. Later on Michelangelo gave free
play to child nature in these semi-caryatids. The solemn and even
sleepy-eyed little ones begin to make each other's acquaintance,
point out things of interest, talk and play together, even try to
wrestle (as above Daniel's throne) or dance (to the right and left
of the Erythrean Sibyl).
The bronze figures filling the triangular spaces above the span-
drels are quite different in character from these marble children,
let alone the nude youths that seem almost to dominate the center
of the ceiling. These bronzes are back to back in pairs, each again
the mirror image of the other. They enliven these small spaces
that would otherwise be empty with handsome male and female
nudes, further epitomizing the vault's architectural tension, so to
speak, for they carry it on bent back, prize their feet against the
They can scarcely be thought of as living beings, for they
would have to slip off the steep, smooth surfaces on which they
are wedged. They are mere symbols, enhancing the tension of the
imaginary architecture to the beholder's eye, creating and main-
taining the illusion of countervailing force in equilibrium that
keeps the vault from falling.

Helpful prelates and cardinals instructed Michelangelo in the

ecclesiastic principles of Catholic tradition on prophets and sibyls.
Every detail of these pre-Christian figures, as of the ceiling deco-
rations as a whole, had to conform to the conventions of ecclesias-
tic art, had to fit into a dogmatic structure that could be inter-
preted as a prelude to the salvation and redemption of man or at
least reminded of them. Sibyls and prophets after all prophesied
the coming of Christ. Reading in the book of fate, they divined
and foresaw the distant birth of the Redeemer.
Hence the concept of the ceiling decoration called for various
genealogical sequences-the ancestors of Christ, as naively enu-
merated in the New Testament (i.e. the supposed progenitors of
Joseph, even though he was later not accounted the true father),
were a dogmatic necessity.
The great artist gladly complied with this theological chal-
lenge, which gave him a welcome opportunity for laying a quieter
groundwork for the storms of passion he unleashed in the center
panels. The tempo of this series is adagio, their basic theme un-
requited yearning, the everlasting frustration he felt in his own
soul and gave poetic form in his sonnets. The figures are melan-
choly in temper, occasionally lightened with the vigor and vitality
that blossomed within himself whenever he reveled in the throes
of creation, the nearest thing to happiness he knew.
Above the chapel's fourteen windows are fourteen semicircular
areas or lunettes, each divided in two by a nameplate at the top
of the arch, allowing room on each side for at least one figure,
preferably a man and a woman. Even though unrelated, they
formed a pair, and each could be surrounded with small children,
giving an air of family life.
The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel 273
Above the lunettes the dormer ceilings cutting into the vault
form another eight triangular fields. For an artist of Michelangelo's
mettle, these formed an excellent background for seated or re-
clining figures in pyramidal groups. The form of the triangle sug-
gested a tent flap, and what could be more natural than that
Christ's nomadic ancestors had lived in tents! Following the dic-
tates of fresco painting, Michelangelo began at the top, painting
the eight triangles before the fourteen lunettes.
Michelangelo, needless to say, wasted no time on trying to
imagine what Jesse or Asa or Ozias had been like or looked like.
He gave the figures names because this was expected and for the
rest allowed his imagination free rein. In these eight paintings,
quietly effective in their harmony of line and color, he simply
played variations on the theme of idyllic family life.


The time is long past when critics, on the premise that Michel-
angelo was a reluctant painter, spoke slightingly of his colors and
insisted he had merely painted reliefs in color. Actually he did just
what he set out to do. Many different artists have expressed their
admiration for the warm, lifelike flesh tones that mark every
nuance of his figures on the Sistine frescoes. They run a broad
gamut, these tones, from Eve's pale complexion, paler than Adam's,
to Jonah's ruddy tint-he has been spewed up by the whale and
swum through the cold water. The nude youths on the ceiling are
sun-tanned, the skin color appropriate to Italy.
Michelangelo's teacher Ghirlandajo favored strong, luminous
reds in his frescoes, but the disciple avoided both pure red and
pure blue in his ceiling decorations. He preferred mixed and
blended colors. He was fond of adding a dash of orange to his
reds, as in Ezekiel's robe or the lining of the Delphic Sibyl's cloak.
He changes his hues with the light, giving them white highlights
274 Michelangelo
and letting the native tint emerge only in the shadows. Indeed,
modeling was his main concern (as it was Leonardo's), and color
was subordinated to it.
Just as Michelangelo avoided pure reds and blues on the ceil-
ing, so he also avoided pure white. His white fabrics carry a strong
bluish, light yellow or even brownish tinge. He seldom uses car-
mine and violet. Gold is only simulated with other pigments. When
Julius II remarked on the absence of real gold, Michelangelo
lightly replied: "The prophets I have painted were poor men;
they had no gold."
In its entire color scheme the ceiling gives the impression of
an immense water-color painting. If the effect is memorable,
it is because of the vivid contrasts. Some of the highlighted drapery
seems like gold-embroidered brocade, even though there is no
gold. It is true, however, that the use of pure blue as of gold would
have allowed the individual effects to merge into an overall festive
air more in keeping with Julius' temperament than with Michel-
He was after grandeur rather than gayety. In his earliest youth
in Florence he now and then strove solely for realism (as in his
Bacchus) or gracefulness (as in his Giovannino), but like Raphael
at the same time, the move to Rome imbued him with a penchant
for grandeur, readily awakened in so extraordinary a mind at the
sight of the imposing ruins and relics of a great past.
Aside from Rome there was, of course, in all Italy no city that
had room for a work like the Sistine ceiling. It is inspired, more-
over, by that sense of grandeur which was the very air breathed
in the capital of the Catholic world during the Italian Renaissance.
One man, a solitary spirit, lifted the Sistine Chapel not only
above the Cappella Palatina in Palermo and the Sainte-Chapelle
in Paris but above all the chapels in the world. He made the im-
mense space a vehicle for what he alone had to say to mankind.
Michelangelo in his lonely grandeur made the chapel the expres-
sion and instrument of the full stature, pathos and imagination that
dwelt within him.
The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel 275
One cannot help being moved by the utter simplicity and un-
pretentiousness with which Michelangelo (in a letter of late Sep-
tember or early October i512) writes his father that his work is
at last finished. He makes no more ado over it than if it were a
perfectly commonplace commission: "I am done with the chapel
where I have been painting the decorations. The pope is well satis-
fied. My other affairs are not coming off as well as I thought. I
blame the times, which are most unfavorable to our art." And as
usual, the man who had just completed the most famous paintings
in the world signs himself "Michelagniolo, sculptor in Rome."
Michelangelo and Raphael

JT WAS IN JANUARY 1509 that Michelangelo began with his

decoration of the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. Toward the end
of that same year his contemporary, Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino,
eight years his junior, made the first brush strokes in execution
of frescoes that were to become almost as famous as the titanic
work of the Florentine artist.
In the second story of the Vatican wing built by Pope Nicho-
las V were three middle-sized vaulted chambers which, together
with a larger adjoining hall, are called le stanze. They belong to
the pope's living apartments and were not without adornment even
before the time of Raphael. Francesco Albertini in his Guide to
Michelangelo and Raphael 277
Rome ( Opusculum de mirabilibus novae et veteris Romae, 1510)
mentions that the Vatican chambers were decorated by a number
of eminent painters in competition with one another. We do not
know precisely what the different ones whose names have come
down to us had painted originally, but we do know that Raphael
was respectful enough to spare some of the ceiling pictures by his
predecessors, for example paintings by Perugino and Sodoma.
In the middle room, now called Stanza della Segnatura, So-
doma had already done a number of frescoes which Julius II had
ruthlessly scraped away to make room for the plans of the youthful
master to come.
As we note, Michelangelo and Raphael originally had this in
common with respect to their position in the Vatican-subordinate
painters had begun the decoration of the halls subsequently en-
trusted to them. Otherwise their destiny was as different as their
character. They were opposites, even though they were fated
always to be mentioned in the same breath by posterity as twin
geniuses in the fine arts of the time.
Unquestionably it was Bramante, enjoying the pope's favor,
who first drew Julius' attention to Raphael. He persuaded the
pope, who was ever receptive to genius, to take Raphael into his
service, give him important commissions, even have his portrait
painted by Raphael. Like Raphael, Bramante himself came from
Urbino; but it seems to have been Perugino who was the link
between them. Perugino was Raphael's teacher and Bramante's
friend. In Bramante's Roman house he met the older painters-
Pinturicchio, Signorelli and many others.
Raphael was born in April 1483 in Urbino, the son of a by no
means untalented painter, Giovanni Santi, and his wife Magia
Ciarla. He lost his mother when he was only eight, a premature
loss he shares with Michelangelo, though in Raphael's case it does
not seem to have chilled and hardened his character. Since his
father died when he was only eleven, Raphael can scarcely have
learned much from him, precocious as he was in painting. Yet the
elder Santi's forte was perspective and quite likely the groundwork
:qB Michelangelo
for the young man's later skill in perspective drawing was laid
in his home.
A maternal uncle, Simone di Battista di Ciarla, took in the
orphan as his own and became the object of Raphael's filial affec-
tion. A letter to Ciarla written in i508 shows that the handsome
and talented youth had gained access to the small but wealthy
court at Urbino, where Guidobaldo II, son of Federigo da Monte-
feltro, was regent. Since Giovanni Santi had been court painter
with the title pictor de la illustrissima duchessa di Urbino, the son
enjoyed the protection of this art-loving family, around whom
everything revolved in the little city.
Guidobaldo was a fine man, learned and brave. Ill health com-
pelled him to let his universally admired wife Elisabeta Gonzaga
lead the life of a virtual widow, but this harmed the good name
of neither. The best-known poets and humanists of the Renaissance
belonged to the court circle-men like Bibbiena, Bembo, Baldas-
sare Castiglione-and all of these later became Raphael's friends
and protectors in Rome. Guidobaldo's palazzo in Urbino had the
same significance for the early development of Raphael the palazzo
of Lorenzo ii Magnifico in Florence had for Michelangelo.

f (, \
\ / e~ ,,.
' Cf-\"( e1. . -; - 0 I j} II
vP\ \

Q_o-< ~ \l j,
(, The young Raphael was ~pprenticed to. Eietro~ugino. The
precise year this occurred is not known, but it was early in Raph-
ael's life 0 and there was a sharp contrast between Raphael's rela-
tionship to Perugino and Michelangelo's to Ghirlandajo. In the
latter case it was limited to the barest essentials and later stead-
fastly denied, while Raphael as a growing youth devotedly- sub-
mitted to his master's style. Indeed, for a long time he painted the
. (' ( t. t ...

0 At that time Raphael was about thirteen. Michelangelo and Diirer were ap-
prenticed at the same age.
Michelangelo and Raphael 279
sam3 th_emes as Perugino, using the same methods and composi-
~ He ultimately broke free because of the simple fact that he
began to outdo his teacher in the self-same subjects, until every-
one had to realize that mastery lay on the side of the pupil.
Raphael rose high above his teacher.
While Raphael was his pupil, Perugino painted an Assump-
tion, a Marriage of Mary, a Coronation of Mary, a Baptism of
Christ. Raphael treated these same subjects in his first independent
works. The relationship between teacher and pupil was so close
that there are sheets with drawings by Perugino on one side and
by Raphael on the other. There are other drawings by Perugino
which the young Raphael completed. He made a drawn copy of
Perugino's Resurrection.
In 1502 Perugino moved from Perugia to Florence, but this
caused no break in the relationship between the fifty-year-old
master and his pupil who was not yet twenty. It is not known
whether Raphael departed at the same time as Perugino, but Flor-
entine influences are discernible in his art at an early date and,
in any event, he long clung to Perugino's ways of dividing up space
and grouping figures. His famous Sposalizio of 1504 echoes in its '--'
whole arrangement Perugino's Marriage of Mary, except that
what in Perugino's painting is stiff and unimaginative becomes
inspired and expressive with Raphael.


Raphael's long series of Florentine Madonnas-the drawings

even more than the paintings-show how originality can assert
itself with growing richness and unvarying grace, even when
copying and imitating. The poses, quite simple at the outset, be-
come more subtle. The Madonna's features keep growing in
beauty and charm. They express emotions that were foreign to
280 Michelangelo
Michelangelo and that he was not given to represent-modesty
and virginal freshness, combined with a mother love so tender
as to be downright radiant.
Raphael's endless sketches give us insight into his unremitting
'\::zeal. He explored every possible position a child can assume with
~ respect to its mother. Themes burst forth as from a cornucopia,
: and with a genius rooted in an unswerving sense of beauty Raph-
ael's pen or brush invariably found the arrangement that would
("-!_ best feast the beholder's eye.
'";- Thus in the Madonna del Granduca Raphael begins by show-
., - ing mother and child essentially in vertical lines, broken only by
c} " a gentle inclination of the head. With the introduction of St. John
\ \.., as a third figure, the Madonna pictures gradually grow richer in
, ' (- movement. At first the group is organized in pyramid form, of
r' c'\ 2 simple architectural structure. Then the compositions grow freer.
~ ::> In the ne Alba Madonna (National Gallery, Washington) the
influence of Leonardo's St. Anne is seen. In the Madonna del
v \
{ Baldachino Fra Bartolommeo's influence is reflected in the great
figure of St. Peter.
From the moment the young artist from Urbino tried his hand
at portraiture, during his Florentine period, the powerful influence
Leonardo exerted on him, as on virtually all artists of the time,
becomes noticeable. His Maddalena Dani invokes the Mona Lisa
in attitude. Judging from Vasari's remark about the close acquaint-
ance between Raphael and Fra Bartolommeo, it was the latter,
particularly, who opened the eyes of the young genius to the art
and teachings of Leonardo.


Q!iginally Raphael, unlike Michelangelo, was not deeply influ-

enced by antiquity. A trace of such an influence is found in the fine
Michelangelo and Raphael 281

painting, the Three Graces, in Chantilly. The idea stems either

from a marble group that was found in Siena, when Raphael was
there in i503-1504 as Pinturicchio's assistant, or from some carved
gemstone. The influence of ancient tomb reliefs is unquestionable
in the drawing, the Death of Adonis, in Oxford. (Signorelli used
the same Roman relief as a model.) It is, so to speak, a study for
the Entombment. Yet Adonis is here a dying rather than a dead
man being carried away by friends. In Raphael's further develop-
ment during his stay in Rome we ~e impressions from antiquity
more often and plainly, though it cannot be said that this influence
was ever dominant in his painting, whereas it clearly was in his
work as an architect. As a painter Raphael borrows only minor
details from the ancients. His lifework reflects Roman antiquity
only to the degree that it reflects the spirit of humanism-the
spirit that found expression in the Italian Renaissance, utterly
permeating its finest creations.

The execution of the frescoes in the stanze marked a turning-

point in Raphael's life, no less important than the ceiling decora-
tions of the Sistine Chapel in the life of Michelangelo. Like the
older artist, the younger grew with his work and attained ever
greater perfection. Yet they took different courses. Michelangelo
proceeded from pictures on too small a scale, crowded with figures,
to large-scale compositions for which a few sufficed. Raphael
started from a first great composition, dominated by symmetry in
heaven as on earth and arrived at a still symmetrical but far livelier
and richer arrangement of figures. The step from the Disputa to
the School of Athens marks an advance.
The young master's further progress is from compositions char-
acterized essentially by tranquillity and perfect harmony to such
282 Michelangelo
a fresco as Heliodorus Driven from the Temple, in which those
portions in repose are but resting-points for the eye in taking in
the whole, :Hooded with dramatic life.
In the Disputa all w~s still intent upon beauty-of line-and total
structure. Whether the expressions of the faces were appropriate
or :Hat was a matter of secondary importance. The School of Athens
and Parnassus are magnificent paintings, especially the former,
but in both philosophers and poets have assumed meaningful pos-
H eliodorus, on the other hand, embodies a measure of passion
unknown in any of Raphael's earlier paintings. Michelangelo of-
fered a similar but far feebler composition in one of the bronze
medallions placed between the nude youths on the Sistine ceil-
ing. 0


The first of Raphael's great fresco paintings, in the Stanza

della Segnatura, shows the open sky up above, with a mass of
small, winged, praying angels, and below six larger, grown figures,
grouped about the figure of God, visible to the waist, a venerable
ancient, right hand upraised, the world globe in his left. Still
further down sits Christ, encompassed by a scallop shell of tiny
winged angels' heads, his body bare, a white mantle over his loins
and left arm. On his right side is Mary in devotion, on his left St.
Below them, in a rising arc like the new moon, come the saints
of the church triumphant, firmly seated on clouds, and still further
down there is another profusion of angels. Four of them have the
0 This bronze medallion represents, according to Edgar W ind ( i960) , The
Chastisement of Heliodorus; formerly it was called The Death of Uriah.
Michelangelo and Raphael 283
gospels open before them, while a mass of smaller fellows are on
either side of the sacred dove that forms the center of the picture.
By its vivid animation the earthly gathering provides the neces-
sary contrast to the blissful serenity of the heavenly. Here too the
action has a focus in the center of the picture, the monstrance on
the altar. It is a symbol of the miracle of the church militant on
earth, and this is what gives the painting its surging movement.
From the left a group of worshiping young men, half on their
knees, sweep toward the altar.
In different ways four church fathers about the altar express
the religious meditation and rapture brought to them by the reve-
lation of the mysterious sacrament. The group on the right is in
action too, and on both sides the wavelike contours are broken
by looming figures, giving poise and firmness to the picture, amid
the passions surging about them. The two groups ebbing away
at the outer edges dovetail artfully with the central portions. At
each end a figure leans out over a balustrade or pedestal, under-
scoring the sense of movement. The man on the far right, gather-
ing up his cloak and gesturing toward the altar, is borrowed from
Leonardo's Adoration of the Kings, 0 which was among the works
that impressed Raphael most deeply. Traces of it haunt all his
stanze, especially his School of Athens.
Among the four famous ceiling paintings, representing Theol-
ogy ( divinarum rerum notitia), Poetry ( numine affeatur), Philos-
ophy ( causarum cognitio) and Jurisprudence (jus suum unicuique
tribuit), Poetry is the most significant. It expresses sublime fervor.
The gold ground softens the deep hues. The laurel wreath about
the head takes the place of a halo.
An answer to the question of how Raphael, a stripling of
twenty-five, was able to tackle and solve such immense tasks can
be given fully only by accepting the fact of his genius; although
he did have careful training in the difficult fresco technique in
0 The unfinished painting in the Uffizi, Florence; Raphael must have studied it

while he was working in Florence ( 1504-08).


Like Michelangelo, Raphael was of course under the necessity

of listening to sage advice on his compositions from the scholars
who went in and out at the Vatican. His masterpiece, the School
of Athens, and the not quite so consummate Parnassus express the
spirit of humanism at its purest. As in a burning glass they show
how the best minds of the time looked on science and art, which
they represent as revelations of beauty.
There is no part in the School of Athens that does not please
the eye. The manner in which the groups are arranged and coun-
terbalanced, satisfying by their equilibrium and delighting with
their variety, is beyond compare. How felicitously and remarkably
the sprawling Diogenes .fills his space! How subtly composed is
the Pythagoras group with the counterpoint of its four heads-
the two seated ancients, the beturbaned man leaning forward and
the youth holding the tablet! Graven on it in Greek are the terms
for a full note, a fourth, a th and an octave-epagdoon, diates-
saron, diapente and diapason-to illustrate, naturally enough, the
close relation between mathematics and music, to which the great
humanists Alberti and Ficino had drawn attention. Especially
prominent among the musical notations on the tablet is the figure
ten, which Aristotle called the most perfect, the sum of the first
four integers. The care that went into this inscription testifies to
the respect Raphael paid to his humanist friends and patrons.
Even more fascinating is the Archimedes group, opposite, with
the great preceptor leaning forward to expound a geometric prob-
lem on another tablet. Here the painter shows his genius in the
solution of a psychological study-four heads show four different
stages of comprehension, and the beauty of his lines is well-nigh
Raphael employed an ostentatiously painted architecture to
lend his picture style and grandeur. The effect of this magnificent
Michelangelo and Raphael 285
interior is marvelous. But for the mighty vault arching above
Plato and Aristotle and their disciples, half of the effect of beauty
issuing from the figures would be lost. In this miraculous work the
youth of twenty-five emerges with absolute assurance in the bal-
anced use of every artifice, masterful in his ability to dominate
rather than titillate the beholder, to convey a sense of tranquil
Details remind of Michelangelo and his use of contrapposto.
Note for example the unnaturally contorted posture of the man
with the beard who stands with one foot on a stone cube, holding
a book against his left knee while reaching for the book with his
right hand across his body, which is turned to the left even as the
head points to the right. 0 These Michelangelesque mannerisms
show the overpowering impression the elder master must have
made on the younger.
Yet these details mean little in the face of the consummate
mastery with which Plato and Aristotle are here plausibly pre-
sented to posterity as the two princes of the intellect who domi-
nated ancient thought. Nothing could be more unassuming than
the quiet gesture with which Plato points upward, nor anything
more eloquent than the outstretched hand with which Aristotle
indicates his desire and decision to cleave unto the earth. Their
retinue is worthy of them-the groups on either side are full of life.
Some of the individual figures are monumental in effect. Gladly
the eye comes upon the youthful self-portrait of Raphael, dis-
creetly and modestly painted beside the figure on the extreme


It is probably unnecessary to give much weight to the circum-

stance that at the time he was painting the Stanza della Segnatura
Compare Michelangelo's St. Matthew in the Academy of Florence.
286 Michelangelo
Raphael was embroiled in the love affair to which the sonnets
scribbled on the backs of sketches for the Disputa testify. We may
take for granted that affairs of the heart were no rarity in the life
of a handsome young painter of his stature. His contemporaries
give evidence to this effect.
What is important is that Raphael's Roman works, like_hjs
earlier ones, reveal his overflowing love of his fellow man, e~
though in restrained and intangible fashion-an emotion quite
foreign to Michelangelo. It is true that the master from Urbino
works his spell most often and most strongly through his innate
yet schooled gift for delighting and enchanting the eye oftlw
beholder. But this talent merely reflects his capacity for love, pre-
eminently love of mankind in its beauty.
Raphael may have been, quite literally, a worshiper at the
altar of Venus; indeed, he depicted the goddess in the ceiling
mosaic of the Cappella Chigi with angels above her head point-
ing to her with roguish smiles of admiration; yet he was at the
same time preeminently a worshiper of the Madonna and, in a
sense, her creator.
It was Michelangelo, in his Sistine ceiling fresco, who fixed
for all time the image of God the Father-so firmly th~hen
Raphael set about painting his own Bible primer in the Ya~ican's
loggie, he had no alternative but to walk in Michelangelo's foot-
steps; but when it came to portraying the Virgin, it was Raphael
who kept adding touches of tenderness, intimacy and distinction,
until in the Sistine Madonna (in Dresden) he attained to that
state of perfection we mortals like to call absolute, a composition
of climactic beauty that can never be forgotten.
This Madonna with her gossamer gait faces the beholder like
an apparition yet seems more real than anyone in the world of
reality. The overwhelming blend of innocence and devotion in
her glance, the humble yet motherly manner in which she proffers
her marvelous child-"the awesome boy genius," as Burckhardt
called him-as though she were bearing the world ruler-these
are without compare even in the art of Raphael. It is scarcely neces-
Michelangelo and Raphael 287
sary to dwell on the inspiration that here joins every feature to
create the impact of unearthly revelation-the sense of balance,
the unerring design, the light on the billowing clouds while the
Madonna's feet are left in shadow.
Innocence, tenderness, devotion and love inspire this master
even when he is after grandeur and attains it. He deserves im-
mortality, this gracious creator of beauty, even if only on account
of his drawings for sun, moon and planets in the Cappella Chigi. 0
His original sketches for the figures of God and for Jupiter's angels
are preserved in Oxford. A drawing of Mars in red chalk is in Lille.
All else has vanished.
The Stanza d'Eliodoro displays the full originality Raphael
had acquired in his incredibly fast growth as a dramatist of the
brush. It is extraordinary what the great artist did with the artless
theme from the third chapter of 2 Maccabees that was put to him.
He stuck to the text-he shows the splendidly vaulted nave of a
temple, identified as being in Jerusalem by a seven-branched can-
dlestick, with the High Priest kneeling in devotion before the
altar; and still following the text, he shows a group of frightened
women and children (verse ig) and depicts the story of the horse
that appeared (verse 25) with its terrible rider who seemed to
wear armor of gold. "And the horse ran fiercely, and smote at
Heliodorus with his forefeet."
The horse is not particularly well painted, but the vigor and
dash with which the rider bursts upon the scene are excellently
rendered. The important thing is the picture's admirable composi-
tion-the vast empty space in the center, affording a perspective
of the High Priest; the entire action crowded into the right side,
with its fleeing, booty-laden temple robbers and the fallen Helio-
dorus (caught in a position surely reminiscent of Michelangelo,
repeated by Vasari in the curiously contorted attitude of his re-
clining Venus, after a drawing by Michelangelo). It is the heavenly
scourgers that give the right side of the picture its sweep.
This agitated group is counterbalanced on the left by the two
0 In the church Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome.
288 Michelangelo
lads who have clambered on the pediment of a column, clinging
there, the better to see. For the rest, the left side of the picture
contains a group that is agreeable in its repose. Pope Julius is seen
at the extreme edge, high upon a sedan chair, borne by men in
his train, among whom the engraver Marcantonio Raimondi, trim
and slender, occupies the front rank.


In the Mass of Bolsena, facing the doubting young priest, we

again encounter Julius, the pope who is beyond doubt because
of his firm faith in the miracle. This too is a beautifully composed
painting, in which the Swiss guards with their altogether un-Latin
demeanor-though sincerely devout-form a refreshing contrast
to the finely featured cardinals and the typically Roman aspect
of the choir boys.
One senses here one of the many differences between the art
of Michelangelo and that of Raphael. This picture has high histori-
cal value. This is what the Swiss guards looked like in the time
of Julius II. The elder artist thought it beneath his dignity to give
us a plausible picture of the interesting personalities and institu-
tions of his age. Such a thing never even entered his mind.
In this picture, as in his Parnassus, Raphael was able to turn
into a distinct compositional advantage the window that cuts into
his painting area, breaking and tearing it up.
In his Deliverance of St. Peter Raphael reached his ape~_~s a
technician of painting, achieving light effects such as Michelangelo
never sought nor attained. In three frescoes grouped about_a win-
dow the artist shows how St. Peter is awakened at night in prison
by an angel who liberates him. In the center is the barred p!!son
cell. St. Peter sits on the ground, asleep. An angel cnwrapped in
Michelangelo and Raphael 289
radiance bends over him, touches his shoulder and points to the
outsiele:-Two -sleep-sodden soldiers lean against the side-walls.
The effect of liberation is enhanced because St. Peter, unlike
older pictures, does not discourse with the angel but emerges from
the gloom like a sleepwalker, his figure lying partly in the shadow
of the angel's radiant light. Another picturesque effect is created
by the flickering shine of a torch, reflected in red from the stones
and the armor.
The Stanza della Segnatura was painted in the years from
1508 to 1511, the Stanza d'Eliodoro from 1512 to 1514. When the
last fresco was done, Michelangelo had already finished the ceiling
decorations in the Sistine Chapel some two years before.
Immediately afterward Raphael began the cartoons for the
tapestries that were to be hung in the Sistine Chapel below the
Florentine frescoes. Seven original, colored cartoons for the tapes-
tries are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Here Raphael reached supreme autonomy. Some of the vivid
scenes-like the Death of Ananias-do carry distant hints of
Michelangelo-though the compositions are entirely Raphael's
own. In the great cartoons interest in individualism is entirely
supplanted by interest in expressive gesture of body and features.
The composition in the Miraculous Draught of Fishes is unex-
celled and absolutely original. It is impossible to imagine any
clearer expression of its spiritual content. The beholder sees both
boats-purposely kept too small-full length, for the one in front
overlaps the second but slightly. A single sweeping line, rising and
then falling, leads from the steersman in the second boat by way
of the two fishermen drawing up the net to the almost upright St.
Andrew in the first boat, who approaches the seated Christ in an
attitude of devotion. St. Peter is already on his knees before Christ,
his hands upraised. St. Andrew himself has no place to kneel but
seems to sink down in adoration. The manner in which the con-
tours of the landscape in the background follow the lines of the
second boat, and in which the lake opens up to make room for
290 Michelangelo
the dominant figures of Christ and St. Peter testify to Raphael's
swiftly acquired virtuosity.

Among the many known disciples of Raphael the most eminent
are probably Giovan Francesco Penni, Giulio Romano and Perino
del Vaga. Of them Giulio Romano achieved the greatest renown
after the master's death.
In contrast to the solitary Michelangelo, circumstances com-
pelled his admired rival more and more to leave to pupils and
assistants execution of works he was but able to design. He was
overwhelmed with commissions and in the last year of his life
the pope even put him in charge of Rome's antiquities, indeed,
of the city's entire artistic life. The sole question that touches us
is whether in his swift development he managed to move away
from or only toward Michelangelo's style.
The available evidence points in the latter direction. Petty
criticism of such a masterpiece as the Transfiguration (probably
dating from the year 1519) dwells on the contrast between the
figure of Christ, soaring upward above Mount Tabor into the glori-
ous light with Moses and Elijah, and the agitated scene at the foot
of the mountain where, according to St. Matthew ( 17, 14), a child
possessed is brought to the disciples, who are unable to heal him.
There is no contrast here but rather, as Goethe sensed and said,
only harmony between the transfigured attendants above and the
earthly sufferers below. What is significant, however, is that a
figure like the epileptic boy and the group about him-the kneel-
ing mother, the young woman leaning forward, the abstracted
man with the beard who holds the screaming lunatic-would be
inconceivable, had not Michelangelo pointed the way for Raphael.

Q~~p~rtant advantage that Raphael developed as a painter

over Michelangelo in his Roman period was his incomparable skill
in portraiture. -
Foremost to be mentioned are his two great portraits, the one
of Julius II, the other of Leo X, with the two cardinals, Giulio de'
Medici and Ludovico de' Rossi. The great pope sits lost in thought,
his mouth firmly closed. His lofty brow bespeaks power, no less
than his great white beard. The strong, well-shaped nose, domi-
nating the face, is in full light, while the piercing eyes lie deep
in the shadow of the projecting brows. Raphael saw and depicted
the majestic statesman in this pope. In his successor with the fat
and shapeless face Raphael emphasized the fine head to obtain
an effect of beauty. Leo, whose nearsightedness is hinted at by the
magnifying glass in his hand, has a book of miniature paintings
before him, from which he is looking up and out of the picture.
He looks sophisticated, yet good-natured. The two cardnials be-
hind him, also holding up their heads without a trace of stiffness,
are merely his seconds. Arranged at a somewhat lower level than
the pope, they contribute their share toward gathering the pic-
ture into a single expression of quiet dignity. 0
Neither of these two paintings, however, equals in stature the
portrait of a cardinal (in Madrid), falsely supposed to depict Bib- I Ir .
biena. 0 0 Utterly compelling in the simplicity of its grandeur, it
npresents the art of aristocratic portraiture at its best. There is
0 The best version of the Julius portrait ( 1511) is in the Ufflzi, Florence, proba-

bly the original. Another version is in the Pitti, and a very good copy in the
National Gallery, London. The portrait of Pope Leo X and the two cardinals
( 1517) is in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence.
00 It probably represents Cardinal Ippolito d'Este.
292 Michelangelo
a sincerity, coupled with profound psychological insight, in this
masterful likeness of a prince of the church, with his thin neck,
his pale, lean face, his narrow lips, his great, finely arched nose.
His expression is one of extreme shrewdness-handsome and
rather morbid, with the superiority of the born diplomat. Viewed
purely as a painting, this waist-high portrait is impressive, its
lower two-thirds being taken up almost entirely by the broad
expanse of the cardinal's habit, most skillfully represented. One
arm, in a light-colored sleeve, extends across the bottom like a
base on which the whole picture rests.
In his portraits-even more in those of women than of men-
Raphael moves in an area where he altogether defies comparison
with Michelangelo, who never even seems to have aspired to
speaking likenesses, indeed, who held the art of portraiture in
low esteem.
There is in existence, however-probably dating from the
years 1514 to 151g--a fresco by the master from Urbino, in which
even in subject matter he begins to take Michelangelo's measure.
He painted it for Agostino Chigi above an arch in the church of
Santa Maria Della Pace. In an arrangement that admirably utilizes
the limited space it represents four sibyls surrounded by various
angels, large and small. At heart the composition is austerely sym-
metrical, but in execution it is full of life. At the very top center
is a small angel with a torch, framed by two large ones holding
the tablets, on which the oracular sayings are already partly in-
scribed. The space to the right and left above the seated sibyls
is filled with angels flying off with inscribed parchments.
At the left is the Cumaean sibyl, in keeping with tradition
here represented as youthful, but full of vigor, as she reaches
for a parchment unfolded by a flying angel. The space between
her and the Persian sibyl on her right is taken up by a pensive little
angel, head resting on hand. The Persian sibyl leans with her left
arm against the rim of the arch, turning with a Michelangelesque
gesture and writing with her right hand on a tablet held out to
her by a full-grown angel. The left side of the composition is thus
Michelangelo and Raphael 293
full of colorful life and rich in lines that divide up the space. The
opposite side is dedicated to calm and reflection. Its dominant
gure, the Phrygian sibyl, rests her bare right arm unmoved against
the rim of the arch, her body turned to the right, her head to the
left, again in an attitude reminiscent of Michelangelo. Her beauty
is overpowering-she is the fairest sibyl Raphael created. The
fourth sibyl, designated as the Tiburtian, is a shrewd old woman
with haggard features.
We see here one of Michelangelo's main themes in variation.
Yet the similarity is essentially limited to the subject matter and
a few chance elements. The differences are far more noteworthy.
One could fall in love with these young women, whereas the sibyls
in the Sistine Chapel inspire only awe. Raphael's are not at all
above the common touch. They are merely splendid specimens of
warm-blooded womanhood. They may be sibyls-but they are
still women, and they are not utterly caught up in the reading
and writing of oracles.
The sibyls were actually figures from Graeco-Roman mythol-
ogy rather than the Biblical characters as which Michelangelo's
ceiling stamped them. Here as elsewhere in his work, we find
Raphael renewing antiquity as the full and happy life. Yet Raphael
was not all exuberance, not even fully of the Renaissance. Just as
Michelangelo, with his four recumbent figures of the Phases of
Day in the Medici Chapel, representing life as torment, was soon
to point beyond the Renaissance, so the master from Urbino, in
his St. Cecilia ( 1515, now in Bologna), pointed toward the art
of the baroque with its sense of ecstatic surrender and sensual in-
wardness, as exemplified in Bernini's St. Theresa in Rome's Santa
Maria della Vittoria.
How deep and earnest was Raphael's love of antiquity and
of all the great ancient monuments left in Rome is shown not only
in the reports of his conscientious administration in his papal office
of conservator of these mighty and imposing relics, but also in the
Memoriale that is no doubt rightly ascribed to him. There he ex-
presses his fervor for the precious ancient architecture and his
294 Michelangelo
sadness over the vandalism that destroyed the finest buildings
down into his own times; and he showed how one must go about
measuring and depicting these remnants of splendid ancient
He was indignant that even the Romans, over long periods
of time, showed no more respect for these marble treasures than
the Goths and Vandals; and his dislike of the Goths led him to
reject the whole Gothic style. He must have meant that style by
what he calls German architecture, for he describes the pointed
arch as its distinguishing feature. He disapproved of it partly
because it had less load-bearing capacity than the round arch,
partly because he thought it ungraceful. His classic taste was also
affronted because "the Germans," rather than using the fine orna-
mentation of antiquity, resorted to ill-made little figures and myth-
ical monsters to support their beams and to tasteless foliage for
It is quite likely that Michelangelo, despite his reluctance to
agree with Raphael on anything, completely shared his younger
rival's prejudice against the Gothic style. One is driven to this
conclusion by the slighting remarks on nordic art in the conversa-
tions Francisco de Hollanda has passed down to us.
Despite the deep gulf between the genius from Florence and
the genius from Urbino, both unfolded fully only in Rome. Both
breathed the air of Rome, thrived on its spirit, remained all their
lives under the spell of ancient art, reborn in the Renaissance.
The Medici Chapel

ENTERING THE SACRISTY of the church of San Lorenzo in

Florence, one has the feeling of setting foot in a hallowed shrine
of mankind-and the feeling recurs no matter how many times
one has passed this threshold. Despite its unfinished character,
what has been created here works a powerful spell that compels
awesome admiration. Unique in the history of sculpture, sprung
from the deepest sources of creative power raised to the ultimate,
it reflects the intensely personal tragedy of a somber mind and
leaves the beholder with a new and moving vision of life.
What is to be seen here is but a fraction of the work originally
planned. That work was abandoned in midstream-relinquished
296 Michelangelo
so utterly that in the thirty years left to him Michelangelo, having
left Florence before its completion, never saw it in place, indeed,
never saw any part of it again and in time forgot what the original
plan had been. To posterity, nevertheless, this work has fused
into an entity of its own, is accounted, in any event, the fullest
and most characteristic expression of Michelangelo's inner life and
artistry in his maturity.
Both the intellectual and the physical work on the statues of
the grave chapel embrace the entire period from i520 to 1534.
Yet as always in Michelangelo's life-that life beset with difficul-
ties, cumbered with obstacles-there was so much to overcome
in these years before the work could begin, and once it was begun
there were such serious interruptions, that only a few of these
long years were actually devoted to the main work; and ultimately
it was broken off by a departure akin to flight, never to be resumed.
Everything speaks for the assumption that the plan for a
memorial to the renowned Medici family originated with Cardinal
Giulio, the later Pope Clement, soon after Cosimo's last descend-
ant, Lorenzo de' Medici the younger, Duke of Urbino, died on
May 4, i519. Already a few years before, on March i7, i516, Pope
Leo's elder brother, Giuliano de' Medici, Duke of Nemours, had
died. In a letter from Michelangelo to Domenico Buoninsegni,
written as early as i519, we read: "I am ready at any time to serve
the cardinal with my person and life, at his pleasure. I mean the
tombs and the blocks that have been ordered in Carrara."
There is something touching in this willingness of the great
artist to serve Giulio de' Medici after all the disappointments and
humiliations the work on the fac;ade of San Lorenzo had brought
Michelangelo in the service of this same cardinal. But Michel-
angelo's unquenchable creative temperament was not humbled by
the abandonment of that project to the degree of failing to respond
ardently to the possibility of carrying out a still vaster one.
2 97


The plan began to take shape in i520. Michelangelo submitted

a first design. Like the first plan for the Julius tomb, it contem-
plates a free-standing structure, in the center of the new sacristy
of San Lorenzo, not yet completed. The structure was to hold four
tombs-of the two Magnifici, the great Lorenzo and his murdered
brother Giuliano, and the two younger Medici, the Duke of Urbino
and the Duke of Nemours, but recently dead.
The cardinal approved the design, merely suggesting ( Novem-
ber 20, i520) that the small size of the chapel might make a free-
standing structure difficult. Michelangelo tirelessly made design
after design. A first one with a square floor plan was followed by
a second, octagonal one. Sketches showing a single level are suc-
ceeded by others showing two. In the first plan the sarcophagi were
to be placed foot first toward the beholder, in a later one sideways.
The final order was entered by Michelangelo in his ricordi:
"On April g, i521, I received a letter from Cardinal Medici and,
through Domenico Buoninsegna, two hundred florins from him,
to go to Carrara and negotiate on the quarrying of marble blocks
for the tombs meant for the new sacristy of San Lorenzo. I went
to Carrara, stayed there twenty days, took down all the measure-
ments for the above-mentioned tombs in clay and drew them on
He made an agreement with two companies concerning the
delivery of quantities of marble intended mostly for the chapel's
architectural interior. There is, however, special mention of two
blocks for figures and one for a seated Madonna. It then proved
impossible to get the cardinal to agree to any of Michelangelo's
proposals on how the work was to be paid. He would neither
approve payment of a single lump sum for the whole project nor
2g8 Michelangelo
pay the artist for the actual working time involved. Nor could
any agreement be reached when Michelangelo offered to prepare
full-scale wooden models of the tombs.
In a letter to Fatucci written in 1523, Michelangelo complained
that almost two years had gone by on trivialities, and still no clear-
cut commitment or adequate reply from the cardinal. He enumer-
ated a number of fruitless efforts, expressly relating the last, in
December 1521, when the cardinal said: "We too desire that some-
thing good be found in the execution of the tombs, to wit, some-
thing from your hand." Michelangelo added: "He did not tell me,
however, that he wished me to do them." Perhaps Cardinal Giulio
de' Medici felt ill at ease under the rule of Pope Adrian and dared
not commit himself for lack of money.


Things improved when Giulio, on November 19, 1523, became

Pope Clement VII. In his ricordi Michelangelo noted: "Today,
January 12, 1524, Bastiano the carpenter began working with me
on the models for the tombs."
In 1421 Filippo Brunelleschi had submitted a plan for the con-
struction of the basilica of San Lorenzo to Giovanni di Bicci. His
son Cosimo and grandson Piero had finished the structure, except
for the faQade. Family crypts were already provided for. Cosimo
rested in the vault below the altar. His parents lay in the old
sacristy. In the new sacristy a sarcophagus of porphyry held his
sons Giovanni and Piero.
The south chapel, called the new sacristy, had been finished
only in the rough. Its completion had to coincide with the con-
struction of the tombs it was to shelter. By early 1524 construction
work had progressed. On February 6 the ceiling had been divided
into panels for plastering, and during the early months of that
year completion of the cupola was being pushed hard.
The Medici Chapel 299 ,
One can scarcely overemphasize the advantages to Michel-
angelo in thus witnessing the progress of the work to his desire
and satisfaction. For the first time he was able to fit the surround-
ing space to his figures so that each was in keeping with the other.
Now he succeeded in what he had failed to do with his David, his
Pieta and his Moses-to utilize the light in the space as he pleased,
and he did so to great effect.
To mention only the use to which he put shadow, everyone
senses the powerful impression that issues from the brooding fea-
tures of Lorenzo de' Medici by virtue of the face being wholly
shadowed. Similarly, the impression of melancholy in La Notte is
enhanced because her face, drooping in sleep, is in deep shadow.
The next stage after the plan for a free-standing structure pro-
vided, as the designs show, two memorials along the walls, each
with two sarcophagi. There was to be a Madonna in the middle,
at first standing, then seated, in a tabernacle, to join the two parts
of the work.
But when work began in earnest in January 1524, this idea too
had been abandoned, and the models to be executed were those
of the two tombs we know today. Each had its own sarcophagus,
but the two figures on their volutes were to be supplemented by
river gods, recumbent on the ground. These figures were soon
eliminated, for reasons of space. The necessity for fitting the monu-
ments precisely into the available space led to this limitation. And
from the moment the number of sarcophagi was reduced to two,
strangely enough the plan to set monuments to the two elder,
greater Medici was abandoned. The artist was content with tombs
for the two younger, less interesting descendants.


There was actually an overruling ecclesiastical consideration.

This was a chapel in which mass for the dead was to be said. One
300 Michelangelo
of the four sides necessarily had to be reserved for the altar. Only
three were left, one for the Madonna with the two Medici patron
saints, the other two for the tombs.
Michelangelo could not bring himself to give up the plan of
setting a monument to the two Magnifici altogether. The double
grave kept haunting him down to the crucial year 1534 when he
broke off his work in the sacristy and left Florence forever. In the
British Museum is a rough sketch, explained by a pen-and-ink
drawing by Aristotile da San Gallo in the same frame. It shows a
single sarcophagus, the cassone, meant by him to receive the
bodies of both brothers. He had it hewn from a single marble
block. Its disappearance remains unexplained.
Michelangelo himself did only the broad footpiece into which
the wooden coffins of the two famous brothers were later placed
( 1559) and above which rises the Madonna statue in all its glory,
no longer part of the tomb architecture proper, but standing be-
tween Sts. Cosmas and Damian, whose execution was left to
Michelangelo's mediocre assistants. St. Damian we owe to Raf-
faello da Montelupo, St. Cosmas to Giovanni Montorsoli. We know
that they worked from Michelangelo's models, but there is no
trace of that in the two statues.

Even more surprising than the circumstance that the tombs
for Lorenzo il Magnifico and his brother were displaced by monu-
ments to two lesser men is the fact that the artist settled on these
at all, for it had been suggested to him to erect monuments to the
two popes from the house of Medici, Leo and the then reigning
Clement. The tombs for these two were planned in May 1524. As
late as 1526 the pope reverted to this plan. But it never got be-
yond a few designs and sketches. Here too the artist envisioned
a tripartite architecture, with a tiaraed figure in the middle, giv-
ing the blessing. It all came to nothing.
The Medici Chapel 301

Later on Clement himself picked a spot in the choir of the

basilica as suitable for the tombs of the two popes. They were
executed by lesser artists and ultimately erected elsewhere, in the
choir of the Minerva church in Rome, where few pay attention
to them.
In the sacristy at Florence a wooden model was begun in
January i524 and finished in March. Immediately afterward the
first figures for the sarcophagi were modeled in clay and appro-
priate marble blocks in Carrara rough-dressed. By June i7, i526,
the masonry work for one of the tombs was finished and that for
the other about to begin. The statue of Duke Giuliano had been
begun and Michelangelo was to start the other, Lorenzo, within
a fortnight. The master's letter of the above-mentioned date to
Fatucci for the rest discusses the work on the vestibule of the
Laurentian Library, a commission with which the fickle pope had
frustrated the work on the statues and contributed his share
toward robbing the artist's mind of the requisite concentration.
But then events already described supervened-the outbreak
of war, the sack of Rome, the siege of Florence, the artist's flight
-and all work in the sacristy was put off for years, to be resumed
only in the fall of i530. A year later Notte and Aurora were done
and one of the two elders, probably Crepuscolo, was being fin-
ished. 0 The work on Giuliano was also nearing completion, and
during the winter of i531-1532 work proceeded on the Lorenzo.
The Madonna received her final aspect.
Even though the work on these figures was tortuous, with one
design following another, this was not seen as the statues came
forth from their marble cocoons. None of them shows a trace of
uncertainty. They stand there, perfect for all time, stamped by
their inner destiny as though they could not be different even by
a hair. And like a many-voiced choir they proclaim the tragedy
of man's life.
The power of this choir is enhanced by the contrast between
0 There are four reclining figures, two male, two female. The Italian-English

equivalents for the titles are: !'Aurora-the Dawn; il Giorno--the Day; il Crepus-
colo--the Dusk, or the Evening; la Notte-the Night.
302 Michelangelo
the great chiseled bodies and the delicate elements of the archi-
tecture. Although chapel and .figures grew together, the space
has been deliberately treated with a strange ruthlessness. In neither
case does the statue of the man form an actual part of his tomb.
They are set in niches in the wall, while the sarcophagus with its
figures stands before the wall. Nor are considerations of space
observed either in the relationship of the .figures toward one an-
other or in their relationship to the architecture. The heads of
Giorno and Notte rear up so high that Giuliano's feet are actu-
ally between them. There is somewhat more distance in the case
of Lorenzo, who was done later. But heads and shoulders of all
four recumbent figures burst through the wainscot line that should
be their architectural frame.
The space as such seems to have been slighted and neglected.
Yet in the four superhuman figures of the sarcophagi time itself
has become filled space hewn from the marble. At the same time
these tremendous human figures are the best expression of Michel-
angelo's basic principle of variety and contrast in the attitude of
individual limbs as well as in the attitude of corresponding limbs.
He demonstrated that he had retained his sovereignty over marble,
even though for a long time he had functioned essentially only
as a painter.
It is very odd that for the first time in his life he here made
large-scale models for his statues-or rather, had them made.
Baccio di Puccione made models of clay for the statues under his
eyes. The clay was mixed with chopped wool, cimatura. On the
wooden models carpenters worked from 1524 to 1526.


In the case of the Julius tomb Michelangelo had begun with

the subsidiary figures, had first done the so-called Captives (in the
The Medici Chapel 303
Louvre). The carving of the main figure, Julius II, he had put off
and put off until, a full forty years after he had the intended marble
shipped to Rome, he left the task to Maso di Bosco, to do what he
would with it, or rather what tradition demanded.
But here, hurling himself into sculpture with renewed vigor,
he began with the main figures. He applied his full energy to the
marvelous Madonna, for which he made long preliminary studies
until he found the most effective and rewarding composition, one
most characteristic of his mature style. By comparison the artless
attitude of the Bruges Madonna and child seems an elementary
phase, long since passed.
The body is bent forward, the head turned to one side. The
left arm reaches forward and holds the nursing child, while the
right arm lies back, finding no proper place in the marble block
The left knee lies over the right, and the strapping boy bestrides
his mother's leg, turning his body backward and reaching for
her breast with hand and mouth.
As historical personages the two dukes are of little interest to
posterity and would have long since been forgotten, had not
Michelangelo immortalized them. Yet they were of no ordinary
importance in their lifetime, for ambitious plans were linked to
their names. Urbino had been conquered in the interest of the
Papal State, and Giuliano was actually appointed its duke against
his will. There had even been thought of securing Naples for him
as a papal fief.
No less a man than Machiavelli attentively followed these hopes
and plans. He had written his famous book, The Prince, in i513
and had thought of dedicating it to Giuliano, whose death super-
Lorenzo was possessed of ambition, perhaps a heritage from
the side of his mother, who was an Orsini. But he lacked experi-
ence and generalship. In his time he was nonetheless accounted
the very model of a prince, and after Giuliano's death Machiavelli
dedicated his book to Lorenzo. Like Dante before him, Machiavelli
It was first printed but five years after Machiavelli's death, in 1532.
304 Michelangelo
hoped for the liberator prince who would drive the barbarians
from Italy and restore the grandeur of antiquity.
Lorenzo's ambition, however, did not go beyond being the
vassal of France he was as Duke of Nemours. For the rest he
did have the minor princely virtues, such as dignity and decency,
and he was shrewd in the choice of his friends and counselors. In
1518 he had celebrated his marriage to Margaret of Anjou with
great splendor in Paris and in the fall of that year held his entry
into Florence. Then he turned melancholy and sought solitude.
He suffered from syphilis, which had affected his brain. His young
wife died in late April 1519, having borne him a daughter. He
died a week later, after a painful illness.


The tragedy of his death gave Michelangelo the idea of cre-

ating a figure over which hung the shadow of melancholy. No
greater feat of creative idealism can be found than this trans-
formation of syphilitic decay into the lofty brooding on the brevity
of life and the vanity of all that is mortal which distinguish the
unforgettable Pensieroso.
Some surprise has been expressed over the contradiction be-
tween this glorification and Michelangelo's resentment of Medici
rule, seemingly embodied in the famous verse in which he replied
to Giovanni di Carlo Strozzi's paean of praise for the figure of
La Notte. Strozzi wrote:
Carved from the marble by an Angel's skill,
Here in sweet slumber lies the heavenly Night,
Yet, sleeping, still obeys life's endless might.
She'IJ speak to you-awake her, if you will.
The Medici Chapel 305
Michelangelo replied:
How sweet to slumber here, when all about
My marble carcase shame and woe prevail
To make man's eye and ear with dread to quail.
Leave me to sleep, I pray you, do not shout.

These lines were once dated back to about i530, when Michel-
angelo was working on the "Four Phases of the Day." If this
were so, we would be entitled to believe that Notte was in-
tended as a political indictment. But since the epigram actually
dates from i545, it is clear that it represents no more than a
belated rationalization. As for the bust of Brutus, done after i539,
which is often cited in this connection, it had definitely a political
meaning. Its inspiration was the murder of Alessandro by Lo-
renzino de' Medici ( Lorenzaccio) in i536. The murderer of the
hated Alessandro was universally praised as a Brutus. Michel-
angelo did the bust from a portrait on an ancient carnelian gem-
stone, assumed to be Brutus but more probably Caracalla. It was
done on order from Donato Giannotti. Actually, Giannotti's Dia-
loghi reveal Michelangelo's uncertainty on the subject of whether
Caesar's assassination was justifiable, though he subscribed to the
traditional view of Caesar as a tyrant.
In Giannotti's dialogues Michelangelo calls attention to the
fact that Dante, in the first canto of the Divine Comedy, speaks
out against tyrants and invokes the punishment of immersion in
boiling blood against those who use violence against their neigh-
bors. He concludes, somewhat boldly, that Dante regarded Caesar
as the tyrant of his country and Brutus and Cassius as justified in
murdering him; for a tyrant is but a beast in human form, bereft
of humanity, rather than a man.
But the artist's qualms are shown in his next question, whether
Dante may not have implied after all that these men did wrong
by their murder, since so much evil came upon the world in con-
sequence of Caesar's death. Perhaps the poet thought it would
306 Michelangelo
have been better if Caesar had lived and realized his plans. Donato
replies that Caesar had intended to have himself crowned king.
Michelangelo concedes this to be the truth but inquires whether
it might not have been the lesser evil, compared to the conse-
quences of Caesar's death. He concludes with the conjecture that
Caesar, like Sulla, might have relinquished his power and restored
freedom and republican institutions to his country.
The worthy Giannotti, himself a downright dogmatist, thus
rep1esents his great friend as essentially less dogmatic than he
would have liked, even though tending strongly toward the pre-
vailing view. The dialogue dates from the year 1545 and is an ex-
pression of sorrow over the fall of the Florentine republic.


Michelangelo does not seem to have personally known the

Duke of Nemours ( Il Pensieroso), though as a boy, in the palazzo
of II Magnifico, he knew the duke's uncle, Giuliano, whose cor-
tesia he remembered, according to Condivi. Originally of sterling
character, a friend of poets and humanists, himself a poet of sorts,
the younger Giuliano loved splendor and profligacy and fitted
well into the circle about Guidobaldo of Urbino, at whose court
he and his brothers lived in exile. Hence he resented Leo's rape
of Urbino, which took place the year he died.
True, in 1497 he had taken arms against Florence himself, and
at the Congress of Mantua, where the princes of Italy consulted
on action against the danger threatening from France, he had suc-
cessfully pleaded for the reinstatement of his dynasty. On August
31, i512, he had thereupon held his entry into Florence. However,
he took no vengeance for the expulsion of his family and since he
The Medici Chapel 307
was indolent and unwarlike, his brother the pope deprived him of
command of the city. A zealous boudoir hero, he yielded to mys-
ticism and melancholy, as already mentioned. He too, like Michel-
angelo's other duke, died of syphilis, at the age of thirty-six.
During the year after Giuliano's restoration Michelangelo seems
to have come into closer contact with him. Yet despite this per-
sonal acquaintance he aspired even less to a portrait likeness than
in the case of Lorenzo. Such verisimilitude would have detracted
from the impression of archetypical universality he sought. When
someone remarked that the statues did not resemble the dukes, he
is supposed to have said arrogantly: "What difference? A thou-
sand years from now none will mind the missing likeness, for there
will be none to know how these gentlemen looked." It would seem
today that his faith in the centuries will not be disappointed; but
we cannot forget that his two bronze statues of Pope Julius and
David have vanished.
Michelangelo simply ignored the age difference between the
two 1'1'edici dukes, uncle and nephew, who were thirty-six and
twenty-six. They appear to be of the same age, the better to bear
comparison-just as Shakespeare, some seventy years later, in
Part I of Henry IV, simply struck off twenty years from Harry
Percy's life, to make him the contemporary of the king's youthful
How fortunate are historical personages who come under the
ministrations of the greatest poets and artists! A ruffian Shake-
speare turned into the "king of honor," a witch-burner into Eng-
land's radiant national hero. Before him Michelangelo had turned
two wretched syphilitics who failed at almost everything they did
and died decadently before their time into the two finest and most
significant male statues since the days of ancient Greece.
Giuliano seems to bear the same relationship to Lorenzo as
the Vita Activa does to the Vita Contemplativa. His attitude, the
head turned sharply to one side, hints at a general leading a bat-
tle, but this would make his seated position rather surprising. It
308 Michelangelo
would scarcely befit the gonfalionere of the Roman Church in bat-
tle. Nor is there an expression of command in Giuliano's glance.
He seems to be observing something sorrowfully and the negli-
gently held marshal's baton slips from one hand into the other. Per-
haps symbolically, he averts his head from the nephew to whom
the pope gave the baton taken away from him.
To give the features of Lorenzo the expression of lofty melan-
choly he sought, Michelangelo made the eyes deepseated, gave
the figure an air of abstraction in which the world is forgotten,
characterized it by an attitude of sublime repose. One searches
in vain in this face for the kind of soulful sorrow that marks
Franciabigio's youthful melancholiac in the Louvre. Here the calm
is as of stone. The gaze utterly ignores the beholder. The unprece-
dented, hence unforgettable pose of Il Pensieroso exerts a much
stronger effect than the play of the features. Besides, chin and
mouth are hidden behind the upraised hand with its crooked
index finger, a hand that by its very gesture bespeaks pensive-
To enhance the effect of mystery, this handsome and austere
head is surm()unted by a heavy helmet that shades the brow. The
right hand is supported palm outward against the right knee. To
get the left hand up to the mouth, the artist has placed a small
casket, decorated with an animal head, on the left knee. The left
elbow rests on this box.
Although Giuliano wears a kind of breastplate with protective
metal shoulderpieces, his close-fitting leather singlet allows his
tremendous chest musculature to show through as though his body
were bare. Lorenzo's body, on the other hand, is clothed in some
opaque stuff and his legs too are less exposed than Giuliano's.
The whole attitude of Il Pensieroso is perfection incarnate.
Giuliano's contours may be pleasing to the eye, but one can at
least imagine his pose to be somewhat different, without the statue
being any the worse for it. In Lorenzo everything is as though
ordained. Not the slightest detail could be changed without los-
ing the incomparable effect.

Michelangelo's dazzling originality emerges in the entirely

new form of grouping he found for these tombs. In all likelihood it
was the abandoned design under which the two eminent Medici
brothers were to recline on the lid of a single sarcophagus that
gave the artist the idea of mounting figures on each of the two.
Beneath the statues of the dead, shown here as living, enthroned
princes-as had heretofore been the case only with the statue of
Innocent VIII by Pollaiuolo in St. Peters-there lie in repose, half
erect, half recumbent, more expressive than any truly reclining
figure could have been, those four superhuman symbols that seem
to be mere abstractions but that carry the vitality of a hundred
It was the custom then to show allegories of various virtues
on tombs. But with Michelangelo the simple, basic notion of the
vanity of all that is mortal, wholly appropriate to a grave, grew as
from a bud into the ideas that inspired him to create the four figures
representing time-time which calls man into this life of bitter
sorrow, only to banish him to the grave.
In Michelangelo's mind time became "The Four Phases of the
Day," and he saw them as four human figures, powerfully ideal-
ized to manifest their inner meaning in their very pose, in the op-
position of each limb, more specifically in the constant tension of
their seemingly ever-moving muscles. So stylized has the human
form become here that it is altogether transformed into an expres-
sion of all-encompassing emotion, asserted differentially rather
than evenly and harmoniously in each limb-some parts of these
bodies are rigid or dangle slackly, while others burst with life in
every fiber. The men are demigods, athletic, herculean. The
women are no less stamped with the passionate power of primitive
310 Michelangelo
But for Michelangelo's absolute mastery, long since become
second nature, of the human body in all its forms and movements
-a mastery he was able to carry to the very limits of the possible
-this marvelous harmony from contending elements would be in-
For there is harmony here, even though the canker eating at
Michelangelo's heart was a sense of the futility of life. He did know
fear-fear unto death. Unless we accept that he could be sud-
denly overpowered by such spells of anxiety, we are at a loss to
explain his repeated attempts at flight. Even more than by the
thought of his own death, he was tormented by the specter that
all beauty passes and dies, not only in the world of man but in
art as well. True, the marble statue survives its creator, but it too,
as he said in one of his sonnets, ultimately crumbles into dust.
Time is here seen as the power that is dogged by death. It
transforms these heroic figures into phantasms. Their titantic
forms, called Giorno and Notte, Aurora and Crepuscolo, mere pro-
jections of inexorable fate, are heavy as lead and supremely in-
different to the human condition. These creatures are themselves
mere symbols of life as sorrow, too haunted by nightmares to take
pity on others.
Ineffably sad, they lie there moaning. They draw up their
knotted limbs in paroxysm. They are tired unto death, utterly
sickened by life. There is no peace within them. They do not
trouble to conceal their contempt of man. For them no joy in
awakening to another day, no zest at high noon, no sweet repose in
sleep. One thing they have in common-they suffer.
They are the true children of Michelangelo, of the artist who
never portrayed happiness. And if the Renaissance was in essence
a hymn to life, an affirmation of life as an expression of nature
seen with new eyes, then Michelangelo even here points beyond
the Renaissance.
For in the last reckoning these figures do not represent Day or
Night- or indeed, anything to which a name can be given. What
they reflect is the interior of Michelangelo's mind as it looked in
the years from 1524 to 1534, made visible in perfect form.

La Notte beyond question is the figure that was done first. This
is seen among other things by the many appurtenances with which
Michelangelo felt it necessary to equip her-owl, poppy pods, the
tragic mask with the hollow eyes that mirror nightmares, the dia-
dem, queenly symbol, and in the hair above the brow the crescent
moon with a star, reminiscent of Diana.
Michelangelo always felt that night was the time most in ac-
cord with his own being. Numerous passages in his poems lend
expression to this feeling, which was part of his innate melancholy.
Hence his sayings that he was destined for night from birth and
cradle ( nel parto e nella cuna) and that night is more sacred
than day. Only lowly creatures unfold by light. Man is begotten
by night. Night looms as high above day as man does above plant.
True, elsewhere, in another mood, the artist calls it wanton to
praise the night, since darkness is but the shadow created when
the earth turns away from the sun. But this is of small moment.
La Notte proves conclusively that the other passages truly reflect
Michelangelo's mind.
La Notte is represented as the universal mother. The prom-
inent nipples and deep abdominal folds point unmistakably that
way. Michelangelo was not intent upon investing the figure with
charm or grace. Yet the head, even with the features frozen in
sleep and the small occiput, is of sublime beauty.
Of all Michelangelo's male figures Il Giorno is by far the most
expressive, and the oddest. One has only to immerse oneself into
this one figure to grasp the basic pattern of the man in his maturity,
the fierce pride and grandeur of him, his contempt for the petty
and mundane, so extreme that it needed no words where a glance
was enough.
Everything is given in the mere pose-the tremendous body
turning away from the beholder, the marvelous back like the Her-
312 Michelangelo
cules torso Michelangelo so greatly admired, with its powerfully
rippling muscles that show not a single sharp ridge, the fine lines
created by the left leg thrown over the right, and above all the
crowning feature of this masterpiece, the frontal position of the
head peering over the right shoulder.
Such a head! No one with even the most elementary sense of
beauty who has ever seen it, even but in reproduction, can ever
forget it. It hints of the sun rising behind a mountain range. Procul
o procul este, profani! says that forbidding, awe-inspiring, mina-
tory glance from beneath the strong, clipped brow over which the
thick hair lowers like a thunder cloud. Il Giorno is aloof and un-
approachable like a god. His features but half hewn from the stone,
their incompleteness serving merely to enhance the expression of
power and revulsion, Giorno is made of firmer stuff than mortals.
He turns away from them in distaste and anger. There is no radi-
ance on his face. It is somber. He wakes, not for action, but in dis-
gust of mankind and all its works.
He is as unfeeling as the destiny that swept away the two dukes
in their youth-destiny which turns away from us when we in-
voke it, without cruelty but with inexorable indifference.


There is a certain symmetry between Giorno and Notte, in

that both have one leg raised: nor do their outer limbs project be-
low the volutes upon which they rest. The other pair, Aurora and
Crepuscolo differ, in that both allow one leg to dangle carelessly,
the feet reaching below the lid of the sarcophagus. While Notte
droops her head on her breast, Giorno raises his defiantly behind
his right shoulder, marking a distinction in accent. In the other
two the contrast relieving the artful symmetry consists in Crepus-
colo having his right leg crossed over the left while Aurora, barely
awake, stretches her fair body in deep dismay over having to be-
gin another day.
The Medici Chapel 313
She wakes, not to joy in being alive but to sorrow over life's
tribulations. Her mien is doleful. Her lips open in silent plaint.
Her great body has the freshness of youth. Her left hand, bent
toward her throat with finger drooping, is modeled with consum-
mate elegance, yet it is a hand that also shows strength. The mar-
velously shaped leg bespeaks the most painstaking, comprehensive
and vigorous study of nature. Unlike Notte, there is nothing vio-
lent or improbable about Aurora.
She was carved under a creative tension so extreme that the
artist's health began to give way. On September 29, 1531, Gio-
vanni Battista Mini wrote to Baccio Valori, the papal nuncio in
Florence: "He is emaciated and thin as a rail. The other day I
spoke about it to Bugiardini and Antonio Mini, who are always
with him, and we agreed in the end that Michelangelo's days will
be numbered unless something is done on his behalf." As far as we
know he was at the time in fear of the pope's wrath on account of
his actions during the siege of Florence. At the same time he was
depressed because of importunities to deliver the Julius tomb.
Mini saw La Notte and Aurora. La Notte, he writes, had al-
ready been inspected by Valori; and about Aurora we read: "This
altogether marvelous work far exceeds La Notte in every respect."
Aurora has just awakened from deep slumber. Still sodden with
dreams, she is struggling to regain full consciousness. Yet the dawn
of the new day fills her with no delight. Her expression is sullen
and woebegone. It is just another day to her.
Still drowsy, she seeks to rise. Supporting herself on her left
foot, she seeks to throw her weight on her right hip to get her
right leg under her and rise from her couch. Her left hand gropes
for her veil, as though to hide her nakedness. The harmony of
these movements is pleasing to the eye, like a chord in a minor
In giving Aurora an expression of such reluctance to awaken,
Michelangelo may have been thinking of the destiny of Florence
rather than his own, in which every day brought trouble and frus-
Mini concludes the above-cited letter: "Michelangelo is now at
314 Michelangelo
work on the old man [Crepuscolo]. Next winter he will be able to
finish the Madonna and then carve the statue of Duke Lorenzo."
We thus get the sequence in which these statues were done
from this letter, though not the order in which they were con-
ceived, of course.
Crepuscolo, Aurora's counterpiece, is less brusque and violent
in character than Giorno, and his fascination is also not up to that
of the earlier figure. Powerful as the figure is, the main impression
it leaves is one of weariness, renunciation and surrender.
This too is a man no longer young. Once again the artist fore-
went portraying masculine youth, always his favorite subject. But
even though both figures represent men in their maturity, neither
is so old that one would today apply to them the term current dur-
ing the Renaissance: the old men. Their strength is undiminished,
despite their deep distaste and melancholy.
As we know, there is a Michelangelo drawing in the Casa
Buonarroti showing three column pediments in red chalk and also
containing a written exposition of the tomb of Giuliano. It is as
labored and synthetic as the explanation Condivi gives of the
Captives in the original design for the Julius tomb-that they rep-
resented the liberal arts, paralyzed by the death of Julius II. Here
is the text:
"Heaven and earth, day and night speak and proclaim: In our
swift course we have escorted Duke Giuliano to his death. It is
meet and proper that he take vengeance. His vengeance is that
he whom we killed, dead as he is, has robbed us of light, closing our
eyes as he closed his, so that we shine no more on earth. What
would he not have made of us, had his life been spared!"
The elevated locutions are quite characteristic of Michel-
angelo's love of abstruse symbolism, often seen in his poems. The
mention of "heaven and earth" specifically harks back to the figures
which, under the original plan for the Julius tomb, were to fill
the space beside the great pope.
What literary or allegorical meaning the beholder imputes to
a piece of sculpture is unimportant. For Michelangelo the artist,
The Medici Chapel 315
as for all artists, what matters is not the actual representation but
its effect. As in his earlier major works, what Michelangelo was
after was to unify the details into a single, concentrated impres-
sion on the mind. He fixed the aspects from which the sculptures
were to be viewed, enhancing the effect, for example, by letting
full light fall on the recumbent figures of Crepuscolo and Aurora,
while Giorno and Notte are partly in shadow and half-light, adding
to their mysterious shimmer.
It is comparatively rare for a sculptor to write about sculpture;
but in his book on The Problem of Form, Adol Hildebrand, with
an intellectualism of which only a German sculptor would be capa-
ble, touches upon the question of Michelangelo's technique."' He
rightly emphasizes that Michelangelo always made his works as
massive as possible, using his marble blocks to the fullest. So pow-
erful are his representations of life that he leaves no portion of his
space dead. He avoids all aimless or distracting limb positions and
gestures. Despite their pent-up inner energy, his forms always
take up the least possible space. Indeed, he created a whole new
world of the human body. He brought to the fore a wealth of ges-
tures and movements that are perfectly plausible in nature but
that none had observed before his time. Thus he was able to con-
centrate the greatest creative and spiritual wealth within the small-
est compass.


Technique was naturally to the fore during the actual work,

but to Michelangelo technical mastery was always but the means
for shaping his intent. It has been suggested that the spirit of these
tombs, dwelling on the vanity of life and the power of inexorable
destiny in which the dead are but the playthings of blind forces,
Adolf Hildebrand, Das Problem der Form in der bildenden Kunst, Strasbourg,
1893. (No English translation of this book has been published.)
316 Michelangelo
must have appeared oddly un-Christian to Michelangelo's con-
temporaries, even though the work had been commissioned by
the pope.
It cost Michelangelo much time to mold this work to his satis-
faction. Indeed, we may question whether he ever was satisfied,
since he left it unfinished. Only in the year before Michelangelo's
death did Duke Cosimo order the two tombs and the Madonna
with the two saints to be installed.
We get an idea of the river gods that were supposed to find a
place beneath the sarcophagi under the original plan from a large
model, made of clay and oakum, in the Accademia in Florence.
In retrospect we can see the whole work as an integration of
architecture and sculpture, as already mentioned. The cupola of
the New Sacristy was slimmer than Brunelleschi's dome. Its height
to the base of the lantern is twice its width, a proportion in keep-
ing with the tall group structures. Michelangelo further used three
windows on each side to secure illumination from above, needed
to show his figures to fullest advantage.
Since the architecture is sparse and austere, it forms a vivid
contrast to these figures that breathe power and life. Michelangelo
loved the dry classical style of architecture. He never used spiral
columns (as did Raphael in his tapestry cartoon, The Healing of
the Lame Man). He never knew, far less used, the swelling, over-
elaborate forms of the baroque for which he is supposed to have
paved the way. Here in the sacristy he is entirely himself, classical
in his architecture, personal to the extreme in his sculpture, leav-
ing us imperishable symbols of his visions of life and death.


A few works that do not belong to the tombs but date from
the same time and bear a certain relation to them must be briefly
The Medici Chapel 317
mentioned. The one that brings them most vividly to mind is
Michelangelo's large picture of Leda.
Taking leave of Michelangelo after his stay in Ferrara in Au-
gust i529, the Duke of Ferrara is supposed to have jestingly asked
him for souvenir: "You are my prisoner. If I am to release you,
you must promise me something from your hand, sculpture or
painting, as you please." Michelangelo promised, and back in
Florence at once set about painting a large picture in tempera on
wood, from a cartoon he had drawn. As his subject he chose Leda,
perhaps because he believed this would suit the duke's taste, hav-
ing seen in his residence pictures on mythological themes by Titian
-The Feast of Venus, Ariadne, Bacchanalia.
Perhaps Michelangelo simply felt tempted to turn his melan-
choly Notte into a voluptuous creature, keeping the whole atti-
tude virtually unchanged but for one slight modification, blend-
ing the lines of swan and woman into what was meant as a sym-
bolic expression of the mystery of nature. Although we know the
picture but from mediocre copies that do not do it justice, we
must admit that the swan's neck rising between Leda's breasts
until the bill touches her lips and the great white pinions as a
backdrop for Leda's shapely leg and graceful foot join to form an
enchanting composition. Yet the theme was too foreign to Michel-
angelo. He was bound to fail in his effort to transform the atti-
tude of La Notte, one of gloomy self-surrender, into one of violent
and unnatural sensuality.
The subject of Leda with the Swan was much more in char-
acter with Leonardo. It gave this great worshiper of nature satisfac-
tion to bring together in a painting of great beauty the sinuous
lines of the female body and the swan, each enhancing the other.
In a tender and almost connubial touch, the swan spreads his wings
protectively about the standing Leda. (The best copy is in the
Spiridon Collection, Rome.)
Correggio found the theme even more congenial as a pretext to
delight the eye with a charming landscape showing a bevy of nude
young beauties at play in a rippling brook. The open-air erotic
318 Michelangelo
element enters only remotely, with the approach of the swan.
Leonardo put all his emphasis on beauty of line; Correggio
appealed to a robust exuberance not in the least offensive; but
Mkhelangelo was incapable of taking the frivolous myth lightly.
His swan is Zeus incarnate, and Leda gravely and solemnly allows
the great white bird congress, as though nuptials were here cele-
brated betwixt heaven and earth, between an earth-bound crea-
ture and one whose elements are water and air.
The fate of the painting was strange and tragic.
Michelangelo sent word to the Duke of Ferrara when it was
finished. In October i530 Alfonso dispatched one of his courtiers,
Jacopo Laschi, called II Pisanello, to Florence to pick it up. Jacopo
brought the following letter from the duke:
"Dearest Friend! Messer Alessandro Guarini, my former am-
bassador in Florence, has given me your message about the picture
you have done for me, of which I was exceedingly glad. As I have
told you in person, I have so long harbored the desire to have one
of your works in my house that I count the hours, each one seem-
ing like a year. Hence I have dispatched the bearer, my servant
Pisanello, to ask you to send me the picture with his help and to
instruct him how it may be safely conveyed. Do not take it amiss
that I send you no payment by this messenger, for neither have I
heard from you your fee, nor can I judge the value myself, not
having seen the picture. I pledge you, however, that you will not
consider the effort spent on my account wasted, and you would
give me great pleasure by writing me how much you ask, for I
know that your view in setting a value is more reliable by far than
mine. I assure you, moreover, that apart from any honorarium for
your work, I shall ever be intent upon giving you pleasure and
amenity such as, in my opinion, your high qualities and rare tal-
ents deserve. Now and always I am, from the bottom of my heart,
ready to do whatever you may desire, insofar as I am able."
The duke's messenger turned out to be neither a diplomat nor
a connoisseur of art. Shown the picture, he is supposed to have
exclaimed : "What a trifle!" (0 questa poca cosa!) whereupon
The Medici Chapel 319
the resentful artist asked him his profession (Che arte la vostra?).
When the courtier jestingly replied that he was a merchant, Michel-
angelo angrily burst out: "You have made a poor bargain for your
master." Then he showed the man the door.
To take vengeance for the insult, in which the duke had not
the slightest part, Michelangelo resorted to the most unfortunate
alternative. He gave the picture to his assistant Antonio Mini to
take to France to offer to Francis I, known to be a connoisseur,
and particularly fond of Italian art-it was he who had brought
Leonardo to France. Mini had copies of the picture made in Lyons.
He saw an opportunity for profit.
He actually succeeded in selling the original to Fontainebleau,
where it remained to the time of Louis XIII. But oddly enough so
little was the culture of art developed in the best French circles
then that people were ashamed of the picture. The minister
Desnoyers had it removed from the chateau. Either at his behest or
that of Maria de' Medici, it was burned on the grounds of inde-
cency. (Copies exist in London, Dresden and elsewhere.)


The unfinished marble group, Victory, belongs to the period

when the sacristy of San Lorenzo was being finished. The marble
from which the group is hewn comes from the quarries at Sera-
vezza, which were opened only in March 1518. It must have been
politically inspired, for Michelangelo showed it to no one, keeping
it hidden in his workshop in the Via Mozza the whole seven years
during which Alessandro de' Medici ruled with the help of ban-
ishments and executions. The work is first mentioned in the sec-
ond edition of Vasari's book, published four years after Michel-
angelo's death.
There is much that is mysterious in this work, apparently
320 Michelangelo
carved from a block pyramidal in form. It shows a slender youth
with conspicuously small head who, having freed himself in a
fight, rests on his right leg while he puts his raised left knee on the
back of the vanquished foe, an old man of large head and noble
The position is not without peculiarity. The torsion of the body
to the left while the head is turned sharply to the right gives the
figures an almost corkscrewlike aspect. The hero seems to be look-
ing out for a new adversary, never giving his already beaten enemy
a glance.
How the struggle just concluded is to be explained is not clear.
There is a kind of thong about the right calf of the youth, fastened
to the elder man's loins. With his right hand the victor draws for-
ward the hem of a garment that droops over his back. There are
straps about the left leg and the left wrist, as though he had been
bound. Neither the left arm nor the figure of the vanquished foe
are finished but are still imprisoned in the marble.
When this curiously fascinating work came to light after
Michelangelo's death, his nephew Lionardo presented it, together
with several other objects left by his uncle, to Grandduke Cosimo,
who had the group installed in the salone regio of the Palazzo
Vecchio in i565.
Emperor Charles V, as early as i535, had picked Cosimo as the
ruler over Florence, so to speak. When the emperor held his entry
into Florence in April of that year, he was received by Duke
Alessandro and his cousin Lorenzino ( Lorenzaccio), who only
eight months later killed the duke by stabbing him six times. The
emperor inquired after young Cosimo, whom his mother had taken
the precaution of keeping at home. When the handsome lad was
sent for, Charles V patted him on the shoulder and congratulated
him upon being descended from a noble (Lorenzo il Magnifico),
before whom-as the emperor said with a trace of exaggeration-
even France and Spain had trembled.
Alessandro's assassination provided the occasion for the Brutus
bust, already mentioned. The killer was certainly not a figure of
The Medici Chapel 321

interest in his own right but rather a dissipated idler who had
allowed himself to be used as a spy and procurer by the blood-
thirsty tyrant whom he secretly hated even while he served him.
The murder was motivated by the hope of securing the glory that
fell to tyrannicides in ancient Greece and Rome.
Charles V, steadfast supporter of the house of Medici, was for-
ever being threatened with war-by Francis I, invading Savoy,
and by Sultan Suleiman II, the Great, who, driven out of Tunis,
still kept invading Hungary-and so the Florentine exiles imagined
that a republican constitution might be restored to Florence. They
hailed Lorenzaccio as a new Brutus.
The assassin shared his essential shallowness with Caesar's mur-
derer, though his fame did not long endure. For the moment,
however, he was immensely popular, not only among the exiles
from Florence but among Italian intellectuals generally. Jacopo
Sansovino was deeply moved when he was commissioned to do a
statue of Lorenzino as liberator of his country. Lorenzino, who had
not dared stay in Florence, had meanwhile been foully murdered
himself in Venice.
Michelangelo had hated Alessandro from the bottom of his
heart and had shared the popular enthusiasm for Lorenzino imme-
diately after the murder. He had, after all, fled Florence in fear
of what Alessandro might do to him. His goal, Rome, was the
meeting-place for the Florentine exiles. They were led by two
Florentine cardinals, nephews of Leo X, the brothers Ridolfi and
Giovanni Salviati. A central figure in this circle was Donato Gian-
notti, who had held a position of great influence in the declining
years of the Florentine republic. During the months following
Alessandro's assassination he had maintained contact between
Florence and the exiles, but had counseled the latter against try-
ing to take the city by surprise, since he felt certain Charles V in-
tended to install young Cosimo as its ruler.
When nevertheless Filippo Strozzi, Italy's wealthiest and most
gracious nobleman, whom Emperor Charles and King Francis
called their friend, led his armed host against his ancestral city,
322 Michelangelo
he was beaten and captured at Montemurlo. Filippo Strozzi died
in prison, either by strangling or poison, though the official story
was that he committed suicide. His son-in-law Baccio Valori, al-
ready mentioned, who had engineered Michelangelo's reconcilia-
tion with the pope, was beheaded as a traitor on Cosimo's order.
When Giannotti came to Rome soon afterward to negotiate
with the two cardinals about terms for their return to Florence,
he proposed that Michelangelo do a bust of Brutus to present to
Ridolfi Salviati. The enthusiasm with which the great artist began
the bust soon slackened. The cause of the Florentine exiles and
their dreams involved considerable danger. If only from con-
sideration for his family in Florence, Michelangelo had to move
carefully. Cosimo asserted the privileges of the house of Medici
with sword and gibbet.
As we have seen, Giannotti, in his dialogue of i545, represented
Michelangelo as vacillating in his judgment of Brutus' deed. In
time he went so far as to deny all sympathy with the cause of the
exiles. Indeed, in a letter to his nephew Lionardo of October 22,
i547, he not only declared that he was not in any way beholden to
Filippo Strozzi (in whose house he was nursed during a serious
illness-true, by Luigi del Riccio who lived there) but zealously
sought to prove how aloof he held from the intrigues of the
Florentines in Rome.
"All Rome can testify to my mode of life. I am always alone,
seldom go out, speak to no one, especially not to Florentines. When
I am greeted on the street, I simply make the necessary acknowl-
edgment and continue on my way. If I could identify the exiles,
I would not even respond in any circumstances. Henceforth, as I
already said, I shall take the greatest precautions, since I have
enough other things to think of and my life is difficult enough
as it is."
Reading this letter one begins to understand why the Brutus
bust was never finished and never reached the hands of Cardinal
Ridolfi Salviati. The defiant political fanaticism of which Brutus
was to be an expression had all but died in Michelangelo.
The Medici Chapel 323
Chest and shoulders in this bust are seen from the front, while
the ponderous head is turned to the right in sharp profile. The
brow is neither high nor thoughtful but marked with energy, the
nose strong and well-shaped. The rather small but slightly prog-
nathous chin bespeaks willpower. The two features that give the
head its character are the full, firmly closed mouth, the lower lip
projecting slightly beyond the upper, giving the features a curi-
ous negroid cast, and the powerful neck, much more muscular than
normal, seemingly the result of inspired intuition, for the only
important political assassin whom the sculptor had known per-
sonally had just such a neck.
As usual, Michelangelo offered no portrait. The head is neither
that of Marcus Brutus, as he is known from ancient busts, nor of
Lorenzaccio, as pictured on a medallion of 1537.
What Michelangelo sought to represent with this bullnecked
negroid head with its prominent cheekbones and powerful lower
lip was a creature symbolizing pure willpower, an energy that may
not be of a high order but that ruthlessly pursues and attains its
How the bust got into the possession of the house of Medici is
not known. In the seventeenth century it stood in the Medici villa
La Petraja, part of the grandducal art collection. An inscription
below it said that the sculptor, while carving the image of Brutus
in marble, conceived the notion that his deed was a crime and left
the work unfinished:
Dum Bruti effigiem sculptor de marmore ducit,
In mentem sceleris venit et abstinuit.

Works like Victory and Brutus, technically or ideologically akin

to those in the sacristy of San Lorenzo, are yet of far lesser sig-
nificance. They were interrupted by the siege of Florence and the
city's surrender, which was followed by general pillage and mass
killings. Whoever was able fled the city or kept under cover.
Michelangelo too went into hiding. 'While his house was repeat-
edly searched he sat secreted in the campanile of the Church
324 Michelangelo
Niccolo oltra Arno, not far from the gate that led to San Miniato.
But because of his great reputation he was permitted to return
to his house and his work without interference from the pope.
When he reentered the sacristy, he found that during the siege the
scaffold serving the completion of the work had been torn down
and burned for fuel. He let the construction work rest for a while
and devoted himself to the tomb statuary with such passionate zeal
that he grew ill and his life was endangered.
When on Pope Clement's death in the year 1534 he saw him-
self exposed to the hatred of Duke Alessandro, he suddenly aban-
doned all work in the sacristy, gave up Florence, never to see it
again, and went to Rome. There is something oddly touching in
the equanimity with which he thus left unfinished works that rep-
resented perhaps his life's crowning achievement, never to see
them again, indeed, virtually to forget them.
Only the greatest of the great show such indifference to the fate
of their works, the fruit of their greatest intellectual efforts. So
did Leonardo neglect all his writings, testimony of the most pene-
trating research, never having them published. So half a century
later Shakespeare published not one of his plays, leaving it to
others to do with them what they would-indeed, nineteen of
them appeared only after his death.
To these colossi the work itself was its only true reward. When
it was done or abandoned, they were no longer interested. Michel-
angelo was soon so utterly absorbed in the work he took up in
Rome that he almost completely lost sight of his past, however
significant it may have been.
Poems and Letters

THE FINE ARTS which Michelangelo pursued in the forms of

sculpture and painting were not sufficient to contain all the pas-
sion and emotion that dwelt in his soul, his need to admire, his
irony and humor. His surging feelings often transcended chisel
and brush, required an outlet in another creative medium, burst
forth in forms that could be captured only by the pen. His wry
wit and self-detachment, particularly, called irresistibly for the
epigram as a mode of expression.
Despite his role as a statesman, Lorenzo de' Medici, the pro-
tector of Michelangelo's youthful years, had dabbled in verse, love
lyrics and other poetic forms, defending and glorifying the Italian
idiom, then still waging a hard battle against the much more
326 Michelangelo
highly esteemed Latin. Lorenzo called Italian a beautiful and
mellifluous tongue, legitimized as a vehicle for poetry by Dante,
Petrarca and Boccaccio. Angelo Poliziano, who thought highly
of the young .Michelangelo, was no less bent upon breathing new
life into vernacular poetry, and through his good offices the youth
was soon initiated into the mysteries of prosody. So strong an in-
fluence did Poliziano's verse exert on .Michelangelo that in his
stanzas in praise of the rustic life (in lode della vita rusticale) the
young artist followed the paean to nature Poliziano indited in
stanzas i 7 to 21 of his poem Giostra.
Even in these verses .Michelangelo's native self soon went be-
yond mere imitation, displaying his distaste of everything that
did not harmonize with nature. Yet they are scarcely rewarding
for the modern reader, since they consist largely of allegories strung
together. Vainly .Michelangelo tries to make generalizations come
to life. In one passage, speaking of doubt, he says that the word
"why" is lean and jingles many keys at its belt, :fiddling with all
the locks since none of the keys fits.
Other members of Lorenzo's circle, like Cristofaro Landino,
commentator of the Divine Comedy, and Pico della .Mirandola,
served to introduce him to Dante's poetry. And here he found a
spirit worthy of his own, the same pride and austerity, the same
love of beauty and virtue, the same tendency to damn personal
enemies and other contemptibles to the nethermost depths of hell.
He read Dante over and over and in the end became a recognized
Dante expert. He made an offer to the city of Florence to erect a
worthy monument to the great poet, provided Ravenna would, as
was hoped, surrender his remains to his ancestral city; and he
wrote one of his finest sonnets in honor of Dante;
From heaven he came, in mortal clothing, when
All that was worst and best had been observed.
Living, he came to view the God he served
To give us the entire, true light again.

For that bright star which with its vivid rays

Picked out the humble place where I was born-
Poems and Letters 327
For this, the world would be a prize to scorn;
None but its Maker can return its praise.

I speak of Dante, he whose work was spurned

By the ungrateful crowd, those who can give
Praise only to the worthless. I would live

Happy were I but he, by such men scorned,

If, with his torments, I could also share
His greatness, both his joy and exile bear.


The sonnet form, however much of a straitjacket to sentiment,

was popular in sixteenth-century Italy, on the one hand, because
it lent itself to the traditional cerebral style of verse with its more
or less barbed points; and on the other because theoreticians and
practitioners of the muse, like Lorenzo il Magnifico, had expressly
declared it the finest poetic form of all. Its brevity seemed to pre-
clude even a single superfluous word; hence it was suited to lofty
statement or polished thought, compelled the utmost clarity while
avoiding volubility.
A predilection for conciseness leads logically from the sonnet
to the epigram, and we note indeed that Michelangelo, in addi-
tion to writing a large number of sonnets, also composed a great
many epigrams, including no less than forty-eight on a single oc-
casion, when Luigi del Riccio lost his fifteen-year-old nephew,
dearly beloved on account of his grace. Responding to his friend's
request, Michelangelo in these epigrams rang many changes on
the theme of sorrow that death should have cheated the world
of so much beauty. No one at the time took offense at the pas-
sionate love Riccio felt for Cecchino Bracci. Michelangelo had
known the youth but briefly, but he too had warmed to him and
in his first access of feeling promised to design a fine marble tomb.
328 Michelangelo
The pledge was redeemed only with a rough sketch, which served
as a model for the marble sarcophagus and bust, executed by
Michelangelo's assistant, Francesco Urbino (in the church Santa
Maria in Araceli).
Of the many poems Michelangelo wrote about Cecchino, the
sonnet to Riccio is probably the finest, yet even it is labored. It
mourns the fact that the handsome lad, so soon after Michelangelo
had first beheld his beautiful eyes-those eyes that meant paradise
to Riccio-opened them in heaven to behold God. And Michel-
angelo adds that if he, as a sculptor, were to immortalize Cecchino
in stone he would have to create a statue of Riccio, since the lover
was one with the beloved.
In a manner no less affected, the epitaphs insist that Cecchino
Bracci was asleep rather than dead; for he lived on in the weeping
Luigi del Riccio, the beloved ever living in the lover. The letters
accompanying the verses include acknowledgments of various deli-
cacies Riccio had sent when asking Michelangelo for further
Thus epigram No. i8 bears the note: "In appreciation of the
preserved mushrooms, since you desire further verses." No. 23:
"Thus speak the trout, not I; if the verses do not please you, then
do not again pickle it without pepper." No. 28: "With this slip I
send you back the melons, but the drawing is not finished. I shall,
in any event, do the very best I can." No. 29: "This is for the turtle-
dove; as for the fish, Urbino [a servant and assistant of Michel-
angelo] will have to write you an epigram, for he ate them."


One element in Michelangelo's character that never found ex-

pression in his works of art comes to the fore in his letters no less
Poems and Letters 329
than his poetry-a penchant for mockery, especially self-mockery,
but also scorn of others. The humor in his verses, with himself as
the butt, is usually bitter, though at times he asserts himself in a
vein of broad irony. Michelangelo never commanded the wit the
French call esprit, but like his later compatriot Napoleon he oc-
casionally shows a streak of farce-what the Italians call buffo, a
coarse variety of humor, not always in the best of taste. Here, for
example, is a stanza in a parody on rhymed declarations of love:

When I behold your pointed dugs, I see

Two ripe cucumbers in a sack of gunny
And soon go up in flame, like a fusee.
The hoe has bent my back-'tis scarcely funny;
But were I still just as I used to be,
I'd chase you like a cur. You draw me as honey
Draws the bee. How easy then it seemed-
What would today quite marvelous be esteemed.

Most surprising perhaps is that in one of the epitaphs for

Cecchino Bracci Michelangelo puts words in the youth's mouth
that unadomedly reveal the true nature of his relationship with
Tan fede a quel ch'i'fu gratia nel lecto.
Che abbracciava, e'n che l'anima vive.

Ordinarily Michelangelo was very far from jesting at, let alone
accepting such relationships, as seen from an undated letter to
Niccolo ( Quaratesi) in Florence, in which he indignantly rejects
a handsome apprentice, whose father had cynically told the master
he was certain to keep him, in his bed if not his house, if he but laid
eyes on him. "I shall forego such solace," he wrote, "and do without
the boy."
Characteristic of his bent toward barbed satire is the reply
Michelangelo made when Clement VII, through the priest Fa-
tucci, asked him to do a marble colossus 40 ells high, to be com-
posed of smaller blocks and set up at a street corner in Florence.
330 Michelangelo
The draft, in his own hand and dating from about December 6,
1525, reads:
"As for the colossus 40 ells high which, as you advise me, is
to stand on the comer of the garden loggia of the Palazzo Medici
opposite the house of Messer Luigi della Stufa, I have thought on
the matter not a little, as you desired me to do. Methinks the
colossus would not be well situate there, taking up too much room
on the street. It would look much better at the other corner, where
the barber has his shop, nor would it there confine the traffic. But
since, no doubt, there will be great reluctance to displace the bar-
ber shop, the revenue therefrom becoming lost, I have bethought
myself that the figure in question may be represented seated; for,
the seat being placed sufficiently high, the whole thing could be
constructed hollow, not difficult of accomplishment, since it is to
be composed of small pieces. The barber shop could then be ac-
commodated inside and the rent would not be forfeit. And to pro-
vide the barber shop with the kind of vent it now has to let out
the smoke, I believe we might let the figure hold a cornucopia to
serve as a chimney. Furthermore, since I propose to make the head
as well as the limbs of the figure hollow, this could be turned to
account; for at the place in point dwells a dealer in bacon, who
is my good friend and has confided to me in secret that he desires
to install a pretty dovecote inside the head.
"I have just thought of something even better, but that would
mean making the figure a good deal taller. The head might serve
as belfry for San Lorenzo, which is badly in need of one. With the
bells suspended inside, the sound would emerge from the mouth,
as though the colossus were calling for mercy, especially on holi-
days, when the big bells are often rung.
"With respect to the transport of the statue, hereinabove re-
peatedly adverted to, I propose that the pieces arrive by night
well packed, lest they attract attention. There may be some trouble
at the main gate, but surely we shall be able to think of something.
If worse comes to worst, there is always the gate of San Gallo,
which is kept open until daylight."
33 1


The clear-cut and consistent irony with which a foolish plan

is here rejected is characteristic of Michelangelo's cast of mind,
even though the bizarre touches of whimsy that so often mark
his style are missing. Another of his letters hints at a quarrel be-
tween him and his wealthy friend Luigi del Riccio, who was em-
ployed in the Strozzi bank, apparently over Riccio's refusal to
destroy a poem, or perhaps several, which Michelangelo had sent
him, and for which he had refused a proffered fee. "You give me
what I decline to accept," he wrote, "while balking at what I ask."
And in a passage utterly typical of his irrepressible self-depreca-
tion, he adds under his signature: "Neither painter nor sculptor
nor architect, but what you will, except a drunkard, as I told you
in your house."
In a similar vein, scoffing at his lack of influence, compared to
his worth, he began a letter of recommendation in 1520 to Cardinal
Bibbiena, on behalf of Sebastiano del Piombo, asking that the
Venetian rather than Raphael's disciples be given the decoration
of the Hall of Constantine in the stanze:
"Monsignor: I beg Your Right Reverend Magnificence, not as
a friend or servant, neither of which I deserve to be, but as a poor,
worthless, half-crazed person, to give the painter Bastiano from
Venice a share of the work in the palace, now that Raphael is
Not only was this recommendation, couched in tones of such
bitter humility, ignored; it served merely to make the cardinal
guffaw and later passed from hand to hand in the papal circle,
creating merriment wherever it went. None perceived the poign-
ant frustration behind the mock humility.
A memorable example of how this bitter self-irony took poetic
332 Michelangelo
form is seen in a sonnet describing his physical ordeal while paint-
ing the frescoes under the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Another,
showing his passionate scorn, is the sonnet against the Pistoians
(contra a' Pistoiesi). While lacking in wit, it testifies to the depth
of his ire. The Pistoians, Michelangelo writes, show clearly that
they are descended from Cain, and he invokes Dante's judgment
of the town (Inferno, 24 and 25).
In still another poem Michelangelo enumerates all the tribula-
tions his long life brought him. Offal of every kind was deposited
outside his door day in, day out, while age ravaged his body and
health. Deliberately he chooses the strongest and most picturesque
expressions, often approaching the baroque, with never a polished
Grape-munching behemoths my doors beleaguer,
Takers of purges, hulking apparitions,
Their piles of ordure to deposit eager.

I am familiar with their micturitions,

Hissing through hairy vents, as they forever
Arouse me with matutinal emissions.

Michelangelo's capricious style of writing was matched by a
highly personal sense of the incongruous in his everyday life,
shared not even by Leonardo with his keen sense for caricature.
Both Condivi and Vasari report that Michelangelo was fond of
surrounding himself with eccentrics and simpletons.
An example is the painter Menighella, an uncouth fellow from
Valdarno who showed up at times to implore Michelangelo to draw
him a San Rocco or San Antonio he could copy for the peasants;
and the man whom kings petitioned in vain to work for them would
Poems and Letters 333
drop what he had in hand and provide Menighella with saleable
merchandise-a crucifix, for example, which the wretched fellow
cast and sold in many specimens. Michelangelo was highly amused
when Menighella, in an effort to appease a peasant patron who had
objected to the drab habit of a St. Francis, painted the saint in
rich brocade.
Another of the master's favorites was a stone cutter from Car-
rara named Topolino who fancied himself as a sculptor and never
failed to include a few figures from his own chisel whenever he
shipped marble blocks to Michelangelo. One day in Florence Topo-
lino exhibited a Mercury to his mentor, who laughingly pointed
out that the legs were many inches too short, making a dwarf of
the figure. Topolino resolutely sawed off the legs and made up for
the deficiency by giving his Mercury a pair of high boots. Michel-
angelo was delighted at such shrewdness and praised the man for
his genius.
While he was working on the Julius tomb, he once had a stone
mason carve a stele under his direct supervision, telling the man to
cut away a section here and smooth a surface there, until a figure
had come into being without his knowing in the slightest what he
was about. When it was finished the mason looked at it in utter
astonishment. "What do you think of it?" Michelangelo inquired.
"Excellent! I am most grateful to you." "What for?" "Because
through your help I have discovered a talent I did not know I
On another occasion a mason who did work for Michelangelo
was asked by another client to make a mortar for domestic use.
Thinking this a trap set by an envious rival, the craftsman said he
did not carve mortars, "but here dwells one who plies this trade";
and he pointed to Michelangelo's house. Innocently the client ap-
plied to Michelangelo, who merely inquired who had sent him and
when he heard the facts realized the mason in a sense felt himself
to be a fellow sculptor. Michelangelo promptly made a mortar
adorned with foliage, arabesques and masks and asked the client
to let the mason judge what would be a fair fee. This put the
334 Michelangelo
doughty craftsman at a loss. The mortar, he said, was much too
fine for him. Let Michelangelo keep it and make another in the
common, smooth style.
Among the petty artists Michelangelo liked to see about him,
we hear of one Pilato, a goldsmith, who accompanied the master
on his second trip to Venice and was accounted a witty and enter-
taining chap. Then there was Jacopo dell' Indaco, with whose
work on the Sistine ceiling Michelangelo had once been so dis-
satisfied. A lazy fellow, Indaco was full of comic notions. So well
did he entertain Michelangelo with his pranks and stories that he
was almost always asked to stay for dinner when he visited, or so
the story goes. On occasion, however, his loquacity and importunity
were too much even for Michelangelo, who, one day when Indaco
had particularly irritated him, is supposed to have sent out the
painter to buy some figs and locked the door against him.
Vasari says Michelangelo was fond of Giuliano Bugiardini, his
fellow student at Ghirlandajo's studio. Apparently Bugiardini was
particularly good-natured and sweet-tempered, his only fault be-
ing that he vastly overestimated his own talent. Michelangelo, at
any rate, said that he envied such complacency, never being satis-
fied with his own work.
Ottaviano de' Medici once asked Bugiardini to make a clandes-
tine portrait of Michelangelo while he talked to the sculptor. For
two hours Michelangelo laughed at Bugiardini's jokes and stories,
until the painter said: "Arise, if you would see yourself!" Michel-
angelo cast one glance at the portrait and exclaimed: "What the
devil have you done? One of my eyes is smack in my temple!"
Bugiardini did not take the remark in kindly fashion but replied
brazenly: "I do not think so, but if you will sit down again, I shall
try to correct it."
Michelangelo was docile enough to seat himself once more,
but kept his ironic smile. Bugiardini soon remarked: "I see you
just as I have painted you; that is the way nature shows you to
me." "There must be a :Haw in nature then," Michelangelo replied.
"Carry on and spare neither brush nor art."
Poems and Letters 335
Despite the acerbity in Michelangelo's character, his mordant
wit and gruff mockery, we sense an underlying current of warmth,
good nature and tolerance toward the petty.


It was love, or rather heedless infatuation, that first made

Michelangelo a poet. The passion that informed his whole char-
acter strained his every fiber when he was in love. He "takes flame
like tinder," "blows up like gunpowder" at the very sight of who-
ever it is that rules his mind at the time. His emotional life is ever
under the sign of fire. Indeed, fire and ice are images that recur
continually in his writings. Now he speaks of ice melting before
the fire, now of fire struck from steel or stone.
But even his most ardent love poems retain a wry sense of
reality that does not always stop at the trite. As a poet Michel-
angelo had no conception of what constituted good taste. What
mattered to him was that the simile struck home. Whether it was
repulsive was a matter of indifference to him.
Note the grossness of the imagery in the love poem that is prob-
ably the longest he wrote and that turns on his obsession with the
face and figure of his beloved. It begins: "Yes, I believe that if you
were but stone,'' and includes this curious stanza:
You entered through my eyes-see, I am weeping!
Like grapes thrust down the gullet of a ewer,
Their bulk within its ample belly keeping,
So does your image grow-these tears are newer;
For what my eyes devoured, my heart is leaping;
As marrow swells the bark, you swell your wooer;
And since you came in through so close a portal,
I fear not you will leave, while you are mortal.
The image is intentionally unpoetic-the beloved enters his
heart as a berry slips through a bottleneck! But the poem also
336 Michelangelo
includes a simile that is true and striking. The poet is illustrating
his contention that such great beauty can conceal only a noble
For never can a scabbard that is made
To hold a straight knife hide a crooked blade.

In his younger years, especially, Michelangelo went to Petrarca

for models by which to shape his feelings. Petrarca's seventy-sixth
sonnet from In Vita di M. Laura reverberates in a little love lyric
from Michelangelo's youth. Petrarca says: "Here I saw her, full of
humility, here full of pride as well, now brusque, now homely, now
pitiless, now soft; here she was gentle, here again full of contempt
and savagery. Here she sang so sweetly; here she sat down. Here
she turned; here she tarried. Here she pierced my heart with her
fair eyes. Here she said a word; here she smiled. Here her features
changed. Ah, Cupid, thou our lord, thou forcest me to think on it
day and night."
And here is Michelangelo:

Not far from here my lover stole from me

My heart, my very life-a greater prize.
'Twas here he promised succor with his eyes,
But to withhold what he had pledged would be.
Not far from here he bound me, set me free,
And here I wept my sorrowful goodbyes;
Yet from this stone he went, despite my cries,
Whom, though he stole me, I shall never see.

Of much later vintage and greater independence is the pas-

sionate lyric, available in a copy by Luigi del Riccio's hand. The
notion that it was addressed to Vittoria Colonna is probably
groundless. The tone Michelangelo used with Vittoria was in an
altogether different key; but even should the poem date from the
time after he had met her, it would serve only to show that there
was another woman in his life. In the original the poem begins:
Sicome secho legnio in foco ardente. Here is the translation:
Poems and Letters 337
As dry wood may I die in burning fire
If I do love you less! May hell chastise
My soul, if other beauty I desire!

Oh, if another beauty but your eyes

I even look upon, let their sweet splendor
Eclipse-without its life my spirit dies!

If I adore and love you less, 0 render

My highest thoughts as much devoid of hope
As they are strong now in your love's surrender!

One learns with some surprise that even in Michelangelo's life-

time many of his poems were set to music and sung, for there is
scarcely one among them that could be truly called a song. Nature
does speak on occasion in his opus, but there is no chanting, nor
caroling, nor warbling. The lines are solemn like church music, or
shrill with irony, or hot with desire. They reverberate with despair
or sound a dirge over the vanity of life and death.


Until Michelangelo fell under the religious spell of the Counter

Reformation, he worshiped only beauty-at first the beauty of
women, then that of men. The beauty he sought after was insepara-
ble from youth. Like the ancient Greeks, and like many men in
all ages, he was more strongly attracted to youth in all its fas-
cination than to the mysterious power of sex.
Usually Michelangelo's reflections on the beauty of his beloved
come less from the heart than from a sophisticated mind. They
are often far-fetched-for example, when in one of his poems ( Da
maggior luce e da piu chiara stella) he insists that, just as the stars
at night receive their light from some greater star, the beauty of
338 Michelangelo
his beloved is enhanced by every approaching lesser beauty; or
when in another poem on beauty he says the sorrow that makes
him ugly makes the beloved all the fairer.
It was often maintained at the time that at bottom a painter
was compelled always to paint himself. To this premise Michel-
angelo assented in two madrigals to "a fair and cruel lady." In
the first ( S'egli che 'n dura pietra alcun somigli) he says that
since a sculptor represents himself in stone while seeking to carve
the features of another, he must needs make his beloved look as
sad as he was himself. The stone is as hard as she. So long as she
torments him with her scorn, he can shape only his own misery
in marble.
Of much greater value are the poems, like the one written in
Bologna in 1507 (Quanta si gode lieta e hen contesta), in which
Michelangelo simply speaks a lover's admiration. This poem to a
young woman reads:
How much a garland pleases when it lies,
Woven with flowers, upon some golden hair;
It seems as if each blossom thrusts and tries
To be the first to kiss that forehead fair.

Contented all day long that garment is

Which spreads itself but first clings to her breast.
The golden thread asks nothing but to rest,
Touching her cheeks and throat with tenderness.

More honored still that ribbon which can lie,

Gilded and shaped in the most cunning fashion,
Touching the breast which it so carefully laces.

And that small belt that knots so easily

Seems to declare, "Unceasing my caresses."
Would that my arms might join in such a passion!

Of importance too is the renowned and beautiful sonnet to

Tommaso Cavalieri from the year 1532, lending virile and worthy
Poems and Letters 339
expression to Michelangelo's intoxication with beauty ( S'un casto
amor, s'una pieta superna):

If love is chaste, if pity comes from heaven,

If fortune, good or ill, is shared between
Two equal loves, and if one wish can govern
Two hearts, and nothing evil intervene:

If one soul joins two bodies fast for ever,

And if, on the same wings, these two can fly,
And if one dart of love can pierce and sever
The vital organs of both equally:

If both love one another with the same

Passion, and if each other's good is sought
By both, if taste and pleasure and desire

Bind such a faithful love-knot, who can claim,

Either with envy, scorn, contempt or ire,
The power to untie so fast a knot?

The poem that follows ( Veggio co be vostr' ochi un dolce

lume) is not far behind:

This glorious light I see with your own eyes

Since mine are blind and will not let me see.
Your feet lend me your own security
To carry burdens far beyond my size.

Supported by your wings I now am sped,

And by your spirit to heaven I am borne.
According to your will, I'm pale or red-
Hot in the harshest winter, cold in sun.

All my own longings wait upon your will,

Within your heart my thoughts find formulation,
Upon your breath alone my words find speech.
340 Michelangelo
Just as the moon owes its illumination
To the sun's light, so am I blind until
To every part of heaven your rays will reach.
There is in these poems a passion that could scarcely ring
stronger and purer-the passion of a lover, surely not of one who
is loved in return. We are amazed to see a man of such gruff virility
speak like a woman of his love to another man.


Except for Tommaso Cavalieri, we know little of the young

men who-to judge from the well-known letter of invective by
Pietro Aretino-wielded such influence over Michelangelo that
he readily made them gifts of his magnificent drawings.
The first one to whom Aretino points was a young Florentine,
Gherardo Perini. A brief and courteous note from him has sur-
vived, beginning: Honorandissimo et damme amato singolare.
It says the writer is well and hopes the same of the master. He is
at his disposal, hopes to see him again soon, sends his own regards
and those of Master Giovan Francesco (Fatucci) and Michelan-
gelo's other friends. May God protect him!
Michelangelo replied with a brief and highly mannered letter
from Florence, dated February 1522, addressed to al prudente
giovane (the prudent youth) Gherardo Perini in Pesaro. It merely
expressed pleasure at having heard from him. He was well. It was
unnecessary to write at length now, since they would soon meet.
Non mi sento pero soffiziente a farla, he wrote-he felt unable to
reply to the letter, barely hinting at a warmer feeling, also evident
from the plaintive signature, vostro fedelissimo e povero amico.
Vasari reports that Michelangelo presented this young man with
three splendid drawings in chalk (now in the Uffizi, Florence).
That is all we know of Perini.
We know little more about Febo di Poggio, to whom Michel-
Poems and Letters 341
angelo twelve years later, in September 1534, addressed the fol-
lowing letter from Florence:
"Febo: Although you harbor the deepest hatred of me-where-
fore I do not know, for I cannot believe it is on account of my love
for you, rather must it be because of the gossip of others, to which,
knowing me, you should lend no credence-I am constrained to
write you this: I shall depart tomorrow early and go to Pescia,
there to meet Cardinal di Cesis and Messer Baldassare, with whom
I shall go on to Pisa and thence to Rome. I shall not return here.
And I tell you that as long as I live and wherever I may be I shall
ever be faithfully and lovingly at your service, feeling for you
as does no other friend of yours in the world. I pray God may open
your eyes in one way or another to see that he who has your well-
being at heart more than his own is capable only of love, never of
Under this letter the great artist wrote six lines of verse, the
fourth version of a longer poem apparently written to a woman
in 1524, but here addressed to a man. Their meaning may be
rendered approximately as follows: "Nothing but my death will
satisfy you. . . . The more I suffer, the less you show pity on
all my woe . . . . Oh, Febo, Phoebus, Sun, who gives warmth and
light to all the world, why are you dark and cold to me and to
no one else?"
Apparently Michelangelo sang the praises of Febo di Poggio
in a fragment from another sonnet. It is addressed to the eagle
and the word poggio (height) is used in a double meaning: "Oh,
happy bird! You fly up to the sun ( Phoebus, Febo) and see his
beautiful face; you safely soar from the hill (poggio) where we
come to fall."
A third poem, again playing on the name Febo, begins: "When
Phoebus still sent all his rays over the hills, I was to have soared
aloft into the air. His wings would have borne me, and death would
have been sweet for me." The imagery continues with similar
hyperbole: "Pen became wing, the hill a stair, Phoebus a light
for my foot."
342 Michelangelo
In all this labored effusiveness an altogether baroquelike air
emanates from the letter in which Febo di Poggio, writing on
January i4, i535, from Florence, sought to dispel Michelangelo's
"Most noble Michelangelo, whom I honor like a father! I ar-
rived here yesterday from Pisa, whither I had gone to visit my
father. Directly upon my return, through your friend who is em-
ployed at the bank, I received your letter, which I read with the
greatest pleasure, since I learned from it that you are well. I see
from it further that you believe I am angry with you. Surely you
must know I could never entertain such feelings toward you, since
I look upon you like a father, nor has your conduct toward me ever
been of such a nature as to give rise to such feelings. You must
also know that on the night before your departure I was unable
to get away from Messer Vincenzo, though I felt a great desire
to see you. The next morning I went to your home, but you had
already left and I was most unhappy not to be able to meet you
Quite plausible and fair enough; but then we read: Michel-
angelo had told him he could turn to one of the artist's friends,
if he needed anything. Unfortunately, the friend happened to be
away and Febo needed money for clothes to attend the races at
Monte. Would Michelangelo be kind enough to see to it that he
got the funds?
The only young man of breeding and stature among the sev-
eral young men Michelangelo admired was the Roman nobleman,
Tommaso de' Cavalieri. There are astonishing accesses of admira-
tion in the master's letters to young Cavalieri. In a letter from
Rome, dated December 1532, we read, for example:
"If I lack the skill to sail that ocean formed by your mighty
genius, that genius will pardon me and neither despise me on
account of my inequality with you nor demand of me what I
cannot do; for he who, in every way, stands alone cannot find
fellows. Your Magnificence, sole light of the world in our century,
hence can find no satisfaction in the work of another, since you
Poems and Letters 343
are peerless and nonpareil. If nonetheless one or the other of my
works, which I hope and pledge to do, may find your favor, I
should call the work fortunate rather than good. And if indeed
I had the certainty, as I have been told, to please Your Magnifi-
cence in this way or that, I should offer you as a gift my presence
with all the future may bring me. I am grieved exceedingly not
to be able to regain the past, the better to serve you, having toward
that end but the future, which cannot long endure, since I am
even now too old."
When Cavalieri wrote Michelangelo he felt as though reborn
since he had come to know the master, Michelangelo replied from
Rome on January I, i533: "On my part, I should feel unborn,
still-born, or bereft of heaven and earth, but for having gained
from your letters faith that Your Magnificence will agree to accept
a few of my works . . . ." In a letter to Sebastiano del Piombo half
a year later, he sent greetings to "Messer Tommaso," adding: "I
believe I should instantly fall dead, were he no longer in my
To be sure, this Platonic love must be viewed in the light of
the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Montaigne's friend-
ship for Estienne de la Boetie, Languet's passionate tenderness
toward young Philip Sidney are instructive examples. Some re-
marks on friendship in Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici ( i642)
closely mirror Shakespeare's sentiments and those of Michelan-
gelo: "I love my friend before myself, and yet, methinks, I do not
love him enough. Some few months hence, my multiplied affection
will make me believe I have not loved him at all. When I am from
him, I am dead, till I be with him."
Note this passage from a letter by Michelangelo to Cavalieri
of late July i533: "I would far easier forego food, which nourishes
but the body, and even that imperfectly ( infelicemente), than
your name, which sustains my body and soul, filling both with
such great joy ( dolcezza) that I feel neither sorrow nor fear of
death so long as I carry it in my thoughts."
The drawings of figures from Greek mythology-Phaethon,
344 Michelangelo
Tityus, Ganymede-which Michelangelo presented to Cavalieri
were accompanied by sonnets. One of them carries an allusion to
Cavalieri's name:
Why, more than ever, do I give such vent
To my desire, when neither tears nor words
Can change the destiny I move towards?
Nothing I do can my own fate prevent.

Why does the weary heart make death appear

Desirable, since every man must die?
There is no consolation for me here
Where joy is far outweighed by misery.

Yet if the blows must come decreed by fate

And I am powerless, there's comfort in
The thought that nothing now can intervene.

If to be bl est I must accept defeat

It is no wonder if, alone and nude,
I am by one in arms chained and subdued.

It is the last line of the original that alludes to Cavalieri: Resto

prigion d'un cavalier armato.
There are other poems of stature that were evidently addressed
to Cavalieri, though by modern standards they are all somewhat
mannered. One senses in them an awe of beauty, an unfulfilled
yearning for love, a vague metaphysics of beauty and love.


The passionate though perhaps innocent veneration for the

beauty of these young men provoked an attack upon Michelangelo
by Pietro Aretino ( i492-1556), the great contemporary author
Poems and Letters 345
of scurrilous pamphlets. Aretino was artistic in temperament and
appreciative of greatness. He was considered to possess a mordant
wit-though to us it seems more like outrageous gall; he had a
talent for satirical comedy and in his time was in tum feared,
hated and honored, like Voltaire two centuries later; but he lacked
Voltaire's idealism and waged no lofty and selfless crusades for
human welfare, unlike the sage of Ferney. Aretino's sole ambition
was power, and he became the arbiter of success and failure, ulti-
mately gaining the title divino. He counted among his friends
many of the greatest men of his time-Titian, Sansovino, Sebas-
tiano del Piombo, Vasari, Sodoma, Tintoretto.
Benedetto Varchi, Michelangelo's admirer, wrote a sonnet
praising Aretino to the skies. Almost year after year Aretino re-
ceived stipends from Charles V, the Duke of Urbino and four or
flve other Italian nobles, including the later Pope Julius III. He got
valuable gifts from Francis I and the Empress Isabella. 0 It was
his protector, Francesco of Urbino, who introduced him to Charles
V, and the emperor was so impressed by Europe's pioneer of jour-
nalism in the grand style that he had Aretino ride on his right dur-
ing his entry into Peschiera.
It was in i535 that Aretino first addressed Michelangelo. He
began by expressing his vast respect of the master whose out-
standing merit, as he put it, was the greatest eloquence in the
merest outline. Then he came to the point: "I who by my praise
or censure am virtually able to settle whether recognition or con-
demnation shall come to others greet you in all my insignificance."
He would not dare it but for the fact that the respect of princes
had reduced the worthlessness of his name. "Yet am I all admira-
tion for you. There are in the world kings aplenty but only one
Michelangelo. How strange that nature, unable to create any-
thing so exalted that you cannot equal it, cannot stamp her own
works with that sublime majesty peculiar to the immense power
of your hand! You put Apelles, Phidias and Vitruvius in the
0 Isabella of Portugal, the wife of Charles V.
346 Michelangelo
Aretino then turned to the fresco of the Last Judgment which
the pope had ordered from Michelangelo, enumerating a number
of allegorical representations he would like to see used in the pic-
ture. While he had sworn never again to set foot in Rome, he con-
cluded, his desire to see the Last Judgment might make him go
back on his word.
The artists of the time were constrained to bow to Aretino's
rule. A past master in self-advertisement, he was well able to
carry along whomever he wished; but in return for his praise and
commendation he exacted pictures and sketches and drawings.
He sent an angry letter to Bandinelli, when that artist failed to
pay the required tribute. His letters were published and read all
over Italy. What was then considered barbed and corrosive may
seem fatuous to us today, but beyond question Aretino was a
power to be reckoned with.
Upon Aretino's request Vasari had sent him two drawings by
Michelangelo, as well as the clay model of a head. Presumably
he did so in the name of Duke Alessandro, and Aretino thanked
him in the most effusive terms. The two drawings are supposed
to have been a St. Catherine, drawn by Michelangelo when he
was a boy, and a picture of an eagle. Aretino speaks of them as
works of art of the first water.
It must be borne in mind that even such a man as Titian, even
in Venice where his fame was ubiquitous, and even by his friend
Aretino, was never put on the same level with Michelangelo.
Michelangelo replied to Aretino's letter with great courtesy
and a touch of irony:
"Highly esteemed friend and brother, your letter saddened
and at once pleased me. It pleased me because it comes from you
who are one of a kind. It saddened me because so much of my
painting is already done that I cannot employ your ideas. You
could not have better described the Last Judgment, had you
undergone it yourself. As to your offer to write about me, it gives
me more than mere pleasure. Since kings and emperors deem it
Poems and Letters 347
the greatest favor to be mentioned by your pen, I do indeed re-
quest it.
"Should anything I own take your fancy, I readily offer it to
you. As for your resolve to come no more to Rome, please do not
break it on my picture's account-that were truly too much. I
commend myself to you."
Michelangelo must have dispatched this reply more than a
quarter-year after he received Aretino's letter. Not until January
20, 1538, was Aretino heard from again, taking Michelangelo at
his word and with seeming modesty asking for "a sketch of the
kind you would usually throw into the fire."
There was no reply.
In 1544 Aretino wrote again. The emperor had allowed him to
ride on his right side and shown him astounding honors ( stupendi
onori). Cellini had written him that Michelangelo had received
his greetings well-this were more important than all else. He
had wept upon seeing Michelangelo's Last Judgment in an en-
graving and thanked God for having been born into this age.
Michelangelo was his idol, as he was Titian's.
There was no reply.
Two months later Aretino asked a Roman friend to remind
Michelangelo of the promised drawings. The letter arrived while
Michelangelo lay ill in the home of Riccio. Another year went by.
Undismayed, Aretino now mobilized Benvenuto Cellini. At last
there was a shipment, apparently including several drawings, none
of them of great virtue. Cellini received a threatening letter-
Michelangelo should be ashamed; let him say whether Aretino
was to get anything or not. If not, Aretino's love of the master
would change to hate. The letter was dated April 1545
In the fall of that year Titian came to Rome at the invitation
of Paul III, to paint the pope's portrait, being assigned quarters
and a workshop in the Vatican. Michelangelo was not acquainted
with Titian's best works. The ugly features of the aged Farnese
pope provided the Venetian with scarcely more than an occasion
348 Michelangelo
to demonstrate his competence. He probably painted other pic-
tures in Rome, but nothing of outstanding merit.
Michelangelo has been credited with saying that Titian would
have gone far, had he learned to draw and had better models,
of which there was surely no dearth in Venice. But he liked Titian's
colors very much. His pictures were lifelike and realistic, and had
he learned to draw as well as he painted, he would have been
unexcelled. This is what Michelangelo told Vasari, who was Ti-
tian's cicerone in Rome. All the artists, Vasari adds, agreed with
this judgment.
But the artists of Rome hated Titian. They feared he would
stay. Perino del Vaga, who, using Michelangelo's designs, painted
the ornamentation in the Sistine Chapel that fills the space be-
tween the Last Judgment and the ground, as well as the ceiling
in the Cappella Paolina, was afraid Titian might take over the
work and inveighed against him. Since del Vaga was Michelan-
gelo's protege, the master may have taken his part. We do not
know what happened between Titian and Michelangelo, but in
Aretino's next letter Michelangelo was no longer mentioned. Per-
haps Titian mentioned the promise to Michelangelo and received
a brusque rebuff.
In November 1545 Aretino wrote Michelangelo a letter de-
ploring the unbridled license with which the painter had dared
to represent what was an object of reverence by all the faithful.
"This Michelangelo, forsooth, whose reputation is so great;
this Michelangelo, who is so famous for his spirit; this Michel-
angelo, whom all of us admire-here he seeks to show the people
that he is as lacking in faith and devotion as he is skilled in his
art. Is it possible that you, so touched with divinity that you do
not even trouble to traffic with common men, have brought such
stuff into God's highest temple, putting it up above Christ's fore-
most altar in the world's foremost chapel, where great cardinals
and venerable prelates, indeed, Christ's very Vicar on earth, pro-
fess and worship the Savior's flesh and blood, to the sacred cere-
monies and divine words of the church?
Poems and Letters 349
"Were it not impious or worse to draw a comparison, I might
pride myself on what I succeeded in doing in my Nanna, where,
instead of resorting to intolerable nakedness, as you have done,
I treated of the most lascivious and voluptuous subjects with pru-
dent caution, in seemly and carefully chosen terms. Yet you,
dealing with so exalted a theme, show your angels stripped of
their heavenly robes, while your saints appear without a trace of
mortal shame!
"Even the pagans showed Diana robed, and when they carved
a nude Venus, they posed her and gave her gestures to appear
clothed. You, who are a Christian, range faith so far below art
that, in portraying martyrs and holy virgins, you violate decency
to create a spectacle from which one would all but avert one's
eyes even in a house of ill fame. Verily, it were better you were an
infidel rather than posing as one of the faithful while laying rude
hands on the faith of others. But heaven will not let your incred-
ible effrontery go unpunished. Marvelous as is your work on its
own, it will surely be the grave of your fame."
Having vented his divine spleen in this fashion, Aretino came
to his main point, the missing gifts. Striking with weapons against
which Michelangelo could not defend himself, he wrote: "It would
have been well, had you redeemed your pledge, if only to silence
evil tongues that maintain only a Gherardo or Tommaso know
how to command your courtesy."
Following this suggestive animadversion to Michelangelo's
admiration for young men, along lines to be expected of an Aretino,
came a final blast charging Michelangelo with breach of promise,
ingratitude, avarice and theft.
''What could a man like myself expect, if the piles of gold
Pope Julius left to have his earthly remains properly entombed-
a work entrusted to you-could not persuade you to meet your
commitments! Surely it is not owing to your avarice and ingrati-
tude, 0 great painter, that Julius' bones rest in a plain coffin but
rather to his own merit. God willed such a pope to be what he is
on his own rather than because of some splendid edifice. All the
350 Michelangelo
same, you did not do what you should have done, and that means
The doughty braggart and extortioner concluded with a re-
minder to Michelangelo that if his suggestions about the Last
Judgment had been followed, nature would not now have to be
ashamed of having granted the artist so great a talent-him who
now resembled nothing more than a heathen idol.

The real point of this insolent letter-the suggestion that the

master's sex life was abnormal-was beyond question an important
consideration in persuading Michelangelo's great-nephew, who
first published the poems in i623, sixty years after Michelangelo's
death, to change every reference to a signor to a signora. Not until
i863, when Cesare Guasti in Florence published Le Rime di
Michelangelo Buonarroti, cavate dagli autografi, Florence, i863,
did we know the authentic versions in broad outline. Subsequently
the researches of Carl Frey added much to their completeness
and accuracy. 0
Michelangelo never wrote poetry with publication in mind.
He wrote from inner necessity, whenever he felt the urge, and
almost certainly it took him a long time before he showed any-
thing he had done to another. That readership was not his object
is seen from the fact that he burned all the poetry of his youth,
surely not because he thought it worthless, as Carl Frey suggests,
but clearly because it might have afforded an insight into his
youthful life he wished to deny to prying eyes.
Carl Frey's edition (Die Dichtungen des Michelagniolo Buonarroti, Berlin,
1897), recording all the variants of the poems, can still be regarded as the stand-
ard work. There is, however, a more critical edition by Enzo Girardi (Bari, 1960).
A revaluation of Michelangelo's poetry has been undertaken by Valerio Mariani,
La Poesia Di Michelangelo (Rome, 1941).
Poems and Letters 351
He burned many drawings and poems on many occasions.
When he left Florence for Rome in the reign of Leo X, he burned
all his papers. Shortly before his death he burned all he could find.
Vasari reports that he staged two such incinerations during his
final years. Moreover, many of his papers, including drawings as
well as poems, were stolen from him.
In the decade from 1530 to 1540 he addressed some of his
poems to persons he esteemed highly, especially Vittoria Colonna
and Tommaso Cavalieri. At times in his old age he would write
rhymed letters to friends and acquaintances. Sometimes he would
recite a few of his poems before a circle of intimates. During his
lifetime an unidentified lady in Rome owned a note book of his
poems, which she would lend to those who wished to make copies.
Since so many of his poems were in circulation, often in garbled
form, he responded to the urgings of his friends Luigi del Riccio
and Donati Gianotti; and when past the age of seventy, he agreed
to assemble and edit for publication a selection of the scattered
pages. This was actually done during the years 1545 and 1546-
but then Michelangelo let the matter drop and the plan for publi-
cation came to nothing. There was still another attempt at a pub-
lished collection of his poems. When Ascanio Condivi had finished
his "Life of Michelangelo," written almost at the master's dicta-
tion, he tackled an edition of the poems. Again the undertaking
was abandoned in midstream, despite the renown enjoyed by
some of the poems that had become known, as seen from the
well-known dictum of Francesco Berni: Ei dice case et voi dite
parole-He says things while you speak words.
Michelangelo's verses cost him immense effort. Most of them
he polished over and over again, sometimes at intervals of many
years. We know as many as eight versions of some of them. As in
the case of his sculpture, he left many of them unfinished. He ex-
pressed what was close to his heart, what he felt at the moment;
but he lacked the patience and will to finish it when inspiration
ebbed or some poem had miscarried.
352 Michelangelo
To be rated highest are the several poems in which images and
similes are taken from the art that was closest to him, sculpture.
Here he moved in a sphere where he was at home, yet even these
poems are never quite unambiguous and unequivocal in their
imagery. Here Michelangelo's intellectualism was a handicap.
There is a dearth of sensual richness in these poems. Take the
famous sonnet on which Benedetto Varchi in Michelangelo's life-
time held an entire lecture before the Florentine Academy (Feb-
ruary 25, 1547). Beginning Non ha l'ottima artista alcun concetto,
it is addressed to a fair and fickle lady:
The marble not yet carved can hold the form
Of every thought the greatest artist has,
And no conception ever comes to pass
Unless the hand obeys the intellect.

The evil that I fly from, all the harm,

The good as well, are buried and intact
In you, proud Lady. To my life's sad loss
My art's opposed to the desired effect.

Thus love, and your own beauty and the weight

Of things, are not to blame for my own plight.
Fate, scorn or chance can never be accused

Because both death and pity are enclosed

Within your heart, and I have only breath
And power to draw from you not life but death.


In time the thought of death became a constant refrain in

Michelangelo's poetry. The years went by, his solitude grew, his
chances for finding love had dwindled. Reaction against the great
Poems and Letters 353
ideas of the Renaissance grew in strength. In many ways, espe-
cially through his liaison with Vittoria Colonna, the great artist's
mind was increasingly haunted by doubts over the worship of
beauty and hopes of salvation by God's grace.
Of much significance is this fine sonnet from 1554, plainly
influenced by Petrarca:
Already now my life has run its course,
And, like fragile boat on a rough sea,
I reach the place which everyone must cross
And give account of life's activity.

Now I know well it was a fantasy

That made me think art could be made into
An idol or a king. Though all men do
This, they do it half-unwillingly

The loving thoughts, so happy and so vain,

Are finished now. A double death comes near-
The one is sure, the other is a threat.

Painting and sculpture cannot any more

Quieten the soul that turns to God again,
To God who, on the cross, for us was set.

Deeply felt as is this sonnet, the thought that this is how the
poet Michelangelo is to end is even sadder. There is a touch of
the spirit of the Council of Trent in this sonnet. All the fire that
once meant the grandeur of the Renaissance is dead and only the
ashes remain.
The reformers had shouted so long about the corruption of the
Roman Church and especially the immorality among the clergy,
that the Council of Trent resolved to restore the strictest disci-
pline. The divine streak in the Renaissance, its exuberance and
irreverence, its mighty espousal of the essential rights of humanity,
its faith in the beauty of ancient art and indeed, its worship of
all art-all this was crushed by censorship, killed by the Inquisi-
354 Michelangelo
tion. Cynicism was supplanted by hypocrisy. Freedom of thought
and freedom to write were revoked. The human body was ban-
ished from the fine arts.
Strangest of all, the creative artist who in youth and manhood
seemed to be the Renaissance incarnate was to end as an instru-
ment of the trend that unseated and murdered the Renaissance.
The Draftsman


noted down on sheets on which he had made drawings. As works
of art, poems and drawings are not of equal rank. Michelangelo
was a gifted amateur poet, whose intellectual stature occasionally
achieved a verse with the stamp of perfection. With pen and
crayon, 0 however, he was the greatest artist who ever lived.
True, one can argue convincingly against some of his work as
a sculptor, painter and architect. Great as he was, his loathing of
0 The word crayon is used here, in a rather loose sense, for black and for red

chalk; and for the natural material as well as for the artificial. (For a technical
discussion of Michelangelo's drawing materials see Ludwig Goldscheider, Michel-
angelo Drawings, London, i953, p. i74.)

356 Michelangelo
the humdrum, the accessible, the attainable could make his work
abstruse and forbidding, despite its basic content of beauty. But,
pen or crayon in hand, he was peerless.
One might think nothing could bring Michelangelo closer than
reading the letters and poems in which he poured out his thoughts.
Not so. They convey little more than a surface Michelangelo, busy
in his private world, emotional, brooding, cantankerous.
But a study of his drawings brings him into far sharper focus.
It means touching his inmost artistry, the subtlest elements of his
personality, the loftiest aspects of his genius. Here, beyond per-
adventure of doubt, he was the master nonpareil.
Numberless sketches of details and portions of later works
manifest his approach. Equally numerous drawings, sometimes
merely tossed off, often finished in such detail as to be works of
art on their own, demonstrate his skill.
His verses differ in quality, sometimes failing to come off alto-
gether; but one may say unhesitatingly that no drawing ever left
Michelangelo's hands that shows the slightest weakness or even
the distraction of the moment. They all testify to his complete
command of form, as they do to his overpowering personality. In
these drawings genius holds undisputed sway.
They express inexhaustible strength, in various nuances, but
always with a sure hand. They are alive with a passion that makes
the drawings of other artists appear thin or cold or flabby. Michel-
angelo's mastery of this medium is so complete that not even the
most difficult subject ever deterred him.
Looking at his drawings closely, one learns to see them not
merely in their finished state-one can watch them growing, line
by line. One discovers that to Michelangelo drawings never were
what they are to many other artists, what his own poems occasion-
ally were to him: a kind of calligraphy. He never set pen to paper
unless he had something to say.
In earnest; for humor and the light touch are absent. An austere
firmness of purpose holds sway here. The consummate beauty
achieved is grave and unsmiling. The artist's inward bent, more-
The Draftsman 357
over, was fixed upon the awe-inspiring, the horrifying-at the very
least upon grandeur.


The fascination exerted upon Michelangelo by what we have

connoted with the term terribile is striking. He loves to represent
scenes that terrify or show the effect of fear. A characteristic ex-
ample is the elaborate drawing of Phaethon, hurtling head first
from heaven to earth with his team of four. Not only are the falling
youth and the tangle of harnessed horses seized with terror-the
nude beauties that look up to witness the disaster are frozen in
Michelangelo could surely never have achieved such utter
mastery over animal form and human movement but for his un-
ceasing study of the workings of each muscle and his equally cease-
less drawings from nude models. Incomplete as is the opus of
his drawings necessarily today, it includes hundreds of studies
of models. Yet it must be kept in mind that in time his mastery
was able to dispense with the need for working directly from life.
It was, of course, physically impossible to draw the plunging
Phaethon from nature, or Ganymede abducted by the eagle. More
to the point, models could scarcely serve when it came to painting
the damned tumbling into hell or the saved soaring to heaven in
Michelangelo's Last Judgment. 0
Michelangelo could muster many styles of drawing, and each
corresponded to a specific mood. In his last phase he was fond
of using a red crayon so soft that the contours become heavy, the
shading delicate, the transitions from light to shade so fluid that
only Correggio ever equaled him. Only the covert energy of line,
0 In such cases Michelangelo used not living models but small manikins made

of wax or clay.
358 Michelangelo
the unmistakably Michelangelesque movements reveal his hand.
This is the style he used most often when fixing or reshaping an
image from memory.
But let him draw from a nude model, perhaps to capture a
figure for one of his frescoes, and he will be using the pen, the
tool of his choice. Then there is firmness and resolution in his lines.
One senses that he seeks, first of all, the definitive contour, finds
and fixes it, then shades with vigorous, closely spaced cross-
hatching that becomes more and more open as the highlights are
reached. Projecting surfaces and arches-on the thighs or in the
chest-emerge strongly into full light. Shadows create soft hollows
where the forms leave room for them. The buttocks surely are not
the body's fairest parts, yet when Michelangelo draws them they
take on such beauty that both man and woman become indeed
It is with the pen too that he designed figures he meant to
do in marble or bronze, as the pen-and-ink drawing for his bronze
David shows. Such a drawing, together with a miniature model, 0
was usually all he needed before tackling the marble directly.
Some of these drawings look like anything but sketches. They
resemble rather finished engravings-indeed, engravings made
after statuary. Others are made with the very finest drawing pen
-little black outline drawings like the six different designs for
Fettered Captives (two standing against steles ), two or three
inches high, alive and moving, tossed off with absolute assurance,
light as a breath. They share the page with a study, in red chalk,
for the boy to the left of the Libyan Sibyl, a study for the right
hand of the sibyl, and the splendid architectural design for the
mausoleum of Pope Julius (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum; Frey 3,
Berenson i562r).
Naturally there is a deep gulf between such drawings as these,
which were only means to end for the artist-the end being
marble, stone or pigment-and drawings that were an end in
0 Usually io to 20 inches high.
The Drafrsman 359
The former let the beholder follow a work from the moment
of conception, the moment when the idea struck a spark from
Michelangelo's mind. Often the themes he committed to paper
never reached the actual working stage-a knot of figures like the
one for the Brazen Serpent, or tiny figures like the Captives. They
were set down only because the master was not content to com-
pose in his head, instead fixing his notions with the drawing pen.
Occasionally, as already mentioned, there are drawings that
unmistakably hark back to actual experience, revealing the artist's
keen memory. Most of them, however, mirror his inner life. His
poetic nature found more perfect expression in his drawings than
in his verse.
Like his drawings, his handwriting is full of character. His
characters stand proud and virile, the beauty of the script spelling
out the creative draftsman. It was Charles Blanc who called atten-
tion to the fact that there is nothing really round in this writing,
not even the letter o. It does have a distinct style of its own.
Michelangelo rests his f's on a base, as though they were columns,
and crowns them with a small arc ending in a straight line. He
writes his d's in such a manner that they exhibit the contrapposto
of his statues. The topmost stroke, customarily turned to the left,
stubbornly turns right with him. Genius is always revealed in un-
expected action. Michelangelo's is seen even in so trifling a trait.


When one spreads out Michelangelo's drawings, the eye lingers

on the page that bears the most important studies for his Libyan
Sibyl, fairest and most elegant of them all-the lady among his
women. Those who have never studied the artist will be surprised
to see that he worked out all the details from a male model-
head, neck, back, the difficult arm position, the foot. We see that
360 Michelangelo
Michelangelo did not exchange the male figure for an attractive
female form until he was absolute master of pose and attitude.
In the same way he changed signor to signora in many pas-
sages when reworking his poems. When Ludwig von Scheffier
went through them in 1892-apparently with the intention of
making as much as possible of Michelangelo's inclination toward
the male sex, in order to class him among the famous homosexuals
-he posited that Michelangelo had invariably seen to it that those
addressed to men were suitably readdressed to women-in other
words, regularly writing donna for signor.
This theory does not stand up with all the poems. As we see
in his drawings, we must conclude that to him sex was altogether
subordinate to beauty. Until the time that he was swept up in
Vittoria Colonna's Christian renunciation he paid homage to the
Platonic and humanistic approach to love: beauty has its origin
in God; it is the sole reflection of heavenly splendor on earth, hence
ever aspires to return to God.
A particularly powerful impression emanates from the page
on which Michelangelo immortalized three of the Labors of Her-
cules, in red chalk (Royal Library, Windsor Castle; Berenson
i611). The hero is first shown in his struggle with the lion, whose
maw he is tearing apart bare-handed; next in the combat with
Antaeus, whom he has lifted off the ground and holds head and
arm downward against his own body and thigh, the back, hips,
legs and foot of the vanquished foeman forming a splendid arc
to the left, corresponding to Hercules's own muscular back, which
curves lightly to the right with strain. In the third episode, com-
posed with consummate mastery like the other two, Hercules rests
his right knee against the massive body of the Hydra, whose
numerous heads on serpents' necks seek to bite him, snapping at
his face and below the left arm, where he is seemingly defenseless.
One head has already fastened its fangs firmly to his right loin.
There is more than a hint of Laocoon here, though there is no
actual resemblance to the famous group in this drawing, in which
The Dra~sman 361
the lone hero contends with a monster as studded with venom
as the world is with hate.
It is hard to say whether these three drawings are better suited
to painting than to sculpture. The frays with lion and Hydra
would look magnificent in fresco. The two figures locked in battle
cry for stone. Possibly with some slight modifications, to enhance
the pose of Hercules, they might have made masterpieces among
Michelangelo's sculpture. By way of comparison, one has only
to think of Baccio Bandinelli's flabby treatment of the same sub-
ject in the group on the Piazza della Signoria. Unlike Bandinelli,
Michelangelo does not skip the struggle proper, providing a rare
feast for the eye by the beauty of his lines.


The Fall of Phaethon fascinated Michelangelo so profoundly

that he left no less than three renderings of the theme (British
Museum, Venice Academy, Windsor Castle; Berenson 1535, 1601,
Perhaps least successful is the drawing in which two horses
hurtle down symmetrically on either side of the youth and his
chariot. In the two others, which are closer to each other, sym-
metry gives way to a tangle of human and animal bodies calculated
to inspire awe. One of them is little more than a sketch. The other
painstakingly overlooks not a single detail.
Michelangelo had carefully read, in Italian translation, the fas-
cinating account of this mythological incident by Ovid at the end
of the first and the beginning of the second canto of his Meta-
morphoses, an account bubbling over with imaginative life. One
fairly sees Phaethon, tom with doubt of his descent from the sun
god Phoebus by the mockery of Epaphus, imploring his mother
362 Michelangelo
Clymene to swear to him that he was sired by Phoebus, and then
going to the sun palace himself to cajole his radiant father into
fullilling his every wish. Too late Apollo rues his frivolous pledge
and senses the danger threatening his son, and heaven and earth
besides, from entrusting the sun chariot to Phaethon for even a
single day.
Ovid's medium is, of course, quite different from Michelan-
gelo's, though the Latin poet's mastery is no whit behind. Indeed,
his account of the spirited, heavenly sun horses shines with a
radiance the draftsman could scarcely equal; and Michelangelo's
empty little cart cannot compare with Vulcan's hand-tooled char-
iot, golden-wheeled and silver-spoked, studded with gems spar-
kling in the sun.
Ovid's account of Apollo's disquiet and Phaethon's youthful
impetuousness is matchless, as is his description of the young
demigod's desperate journey, of how Phaethon loses control over
the four mighty, winged steeds-Michelangelo, of course, shows
them without wings. Heaven and earth are set on fire, the springs
dry up, the rivers seethe, the mountains split open, the cities are
consumed, grass and crops go up in flames, metals melt-all these
marvelously effective poetic images could scarcely be rendered
in a drawing. Michelangelo merely indicated the river Eridanus-
rather traditionally, at that-into which Phaethon hurtled accord-
ing to myth, and where his body was found by the river god, shown
in closely similar attitude at the bottom of his two better drawings.
The first sketch in black chalk (British Museum) is the more
graceful, some of the detail being marked by greater spontane-
ity, such as the frightened women witnessing the fall from below.
Yet the definitive version (Windsor Castle) shows the greater
power-even though the two drawings are actually only a day
This drawing is in three levels, so to speak. At the top one sees
Zeus bestriding his eagle and twisting his slender, youthful body
in such a way that it is seen from all sides. With his upraised right
he hurls his thunderbolt at the clumsy youth who has piloted the
The Draftsman 363
chariot of Helios so ineptly as to almost set the whole earth on fire.
In the first version Zeus is seen full face, his anger less strongly
marked in his attitude. In the second version he is as wrathful as
later is Christ in the fresco of the Last Judgment.
The center field is preempted by the four plunging horses, the
hurtling chariot and the upturned Phaethon, instinctively seeking
to ward off the impact that will smash his head. The motions of
falling are masterfully rendered in the first version, but the horses
are rather carelessly drawn. In the .finished version the lines of the
mighty, plunging group are more pleasing. The horses are un-
mistakably horses. Phaethon's handsome, youthful body is more
extended than in the first version (though no handsomer than
there); but here the lines of his body follow the outline of the
plunging horse at the extreme right, unifying the entire group
more than before.
In both drawings the sun chariot is a simple empty little wooden
two-wheeler, shaped like a trough. Michelangelo's imagination was
not challenged by inorganic forms. To a Benvenuto Cellini the
chariot would have been the main element.
The figures at the lowest level are probably most effective in
the first version, where the attitude of the two nude women per-
fectly reveals their utter surprise and horror. In altogether different
ways their arms seek to ward off the plunging figures, while their
faces express amazement at the unheard-of event. Less effective is
the figure of a man who merely puts his hands to his head, and even
less remarkable is the recumbent river god Eridanus who should
be more than a mere witness.
The first drawing was done during Michelangelo's sojourn in
Rome, just before his departure in June 1533. It was sent to Cava-
lieri with a note: "Messer Tomao, if you like this sketch, tell Urbino,
that I may arrange my time to make another by tomorrow night,
as I have promised. If you desire me to finish it, say so."
If we judge correctly, Cavalieri sent back the sheet and asked
for the more elaborate version that is now at Windsor Castle. In it
everything is firmer and sharper, the outlines harder. The span-
364 Michelangelo
taneity of attitude is lost. The river god Eridanus has altogether
lost interest in the tragedy unfolding before him, merely perform-
ing his work of letting the river flow from an urn. To fill an empty
space, a small figure has been introduced, from an ancient genre
model, a boy with a water jug on his back.
In a letter dated September 1, 1533, and sent from Rome to
Florence Cavalieri acknowledges this second version. The last
version (now in Windsor) is much more coherent in composition
and more consistent in its treatment of light and shade, but the
original freshness and spontaneity have become lost.

In two of the drawings that may be considered finished works

of art the larger part of the area is occupied by a bird with out-
stretched wings. The first of these picturesque drawings repre-
sents a vulture with lowered head, pecking out the liver of the titan
Tityus who reclines on the rocky ground, shackled to the rock by
his arms and left foot (Windsor Castle; Berenson 1615).
The titan is envisioned as immense-according to legend, he
covered nine acres of the cliff. His face is contorted with pain and
anger. With his raised left knee thrust against the rock he seeks
in vain to fend off the vulture. All the action proceeds on the two-
thirds of the sheet on the left, while on the right third a desolate
landscape is outlined. In a curious notion Michelangelo gives a bare
tree trunk on the right a savage animal aspect, with an evil eye,
curved beak and yawning maw.
This drawing too, dating from late 1532, was done for Cavalieri,
as was the other, the full width of which shows a spreadeagle, soar-
ing aloft to Zeus with the kidnaped Ganymede. Executed with con-
summate skill, it was greatly admired even in its own time. (It is
preserved only in an excellent copy, in \Vindsor Castle.)
The Draftsman 365
Despite its supernatural strength and immense wingspread,
hinting at divine powers, the eagle gently embraces Ganymede's
strong, youthful body with its head and neck, while its claws are
securely clamped about his legs, one about each shin, just below
the boy's knees. There is a wonderful contrast between the firm
white body and the softer body and wing plumage of the eagle sur-
rounding and emphasizing it. The main impression is one of soaring
upward Hight, the boy resigning himself to his fate with closed
eyes, but without sorrow or concern.
Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici, who had had the Tityus drawing
engraved in crystal, desired to do the same with Ganymede; but
Cavalieri was afraid the drawing might suffer harm and, as related
by Michelangelo in a letter dated September 5, 1533, declined the
cardinal's request.


Likewise made for Tommaso Cavalieri was a drawing dating

back to late 1534, which is one of the most elaborate composi-
tions Michelangelo ever did in his life. This Bacchanal of Children
(Windsor Castle; Berenson 1618) includes no less than thirty-one
figures (twenty-nine of them children) in five groups, each indi-
vidual figure being modeled with the utmost care, while fitting
effortlessly into a well-organized, picturesque whole.
Here Michelangelo quite evidently indulged himself in tossing
off, for once, a whole cluster of strapping boys, all about the same
age of five, harking back to remembered ancient art works on bac-
chanalian themes. The peculiarity of this drawing lies in part in
the complete omission of the sensual element in the service of
Bacchus. These boys are merely engaged in childish games of
various kinds. None of them has had too much to drink; indeed,
there is almost no drinking at all among the boys, merely play.

366 Michelangelo
Among the lower groups on either side of the great drawing
recline two grown-ups-on the left an aged she-fawn with long
goat legs and pendulous breasts, from which one of the children
tries to nurse. On the opposite side lies a heavily inebriated young
man, head fallen forward in sleep, whose nakedness one of the
boys seeks to cover, like the sons of Noah, while the other playing
children in the group ignore the sleeper.
In the center field of the drawing several herculean boys drag
on an ass, 0 carrying it in such a way that its kicking feet are up-
ended, while they hold it by the body, head and one hoof. The
children, seen from the back or side, are modeled like statues.
They are wholly preoccupied with their heavy, struggling burden.
The two upper groups in the drawing show a degree of corre-
spondence, in that both center about a vessel. To the left nine
boys have gathered about a kettle, beneath which they have lit
a great fire, blowing on it to bring the water to a boil. They bring
up firewood, and a slaughtered suckling-pig to throw into the
boiling water. On the right eight boys sample wine from an open
barrel, their youthful bodies taking on every manner of gymnastic
pose. One of them bends forward and holds a bowl under the
bunghole. Another seeks to drink straight from the barrel and
leans so far over the rim that he almost falls in. Still another has
seated himself on the rim. Others, close by, hold a larger bowl,
from which they drink. Michelangelo takes up the ribald Renais-
sance theme so often seen in Dutch paintings of merry-making:
one of the little boys makes water to rid himself of the surplus
fluid only just imbibed. He borrowed it from Donatello's relief
of a Child Bacchanalia on the pediment of his Judith, which then
stood in the Palazzo Medici (now in the Loggia dei Lanzi).
The whole inspiration entering into this drawing stems from
antiquity, even though there is no clear-cut ancient model. As in
so many other fields, Donatello was Michelangelo's precursor here,
but the influence is almost infinitesimal. Michelangelo in his rich
creativity emerges here as the epitome of the Renaissance artist.
0 Or, as scholars believe today, the carcass of a red deer, not a living ass.

A small group of its own among Michelangelo's drawings is

taken up with figures , or more commonly heads, of heroic women,
and perhaps they reflect his inner life most deeply. The finest of
these heads turns so far to the right that the muscles of the throat
are tensed. Done in red chalk, it shows a woman of about thirty-
though actually ageless-who seems to be moving away from the
beholder and is seen from the back, her head turned to show an
almost pure profile. There is a diadem about the head, as the
ancients understood the term-a headband, perhaps made of
precious metal, since it rises above the brow in two high rims.
A small ribbon droops down before the beautifully drawn ear,
from which dangles an earring with a circular stone. The hair
itself is plaited with narrow ribbons, held together by a broader
band. A small tuft of hair shows over the back of the neck. ( Origi-
nal drawing in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; copy in the Uffizi;
Berenson 1552.)
A well-built young woman, Roman, to judge from the features,
sits turned slightly to the left but facing the viewer. Her clothing,
drawn with great care in pen-and-ink over red chalk, consists
of a gown with much embroidery and a wide belt, wide-sleeved
and loose to leave the throat open. She wears a divided kerchief,
held together by a clasp above the brow.
What matters, however, is her expression-attentive, grave,
observant, brooding. She is not at all lost in reverie, yet Michel-
angelo creates the illusion that something is happening inside this
woman's soul. Her almost peering eyes have seen something that
has affected her deeply. Something like anger is rising within her.
(British Museum; Berenson 1482. Cat. No. 4i.)
On the back of the page, lightly drawn in charcoal, a young
368 Michelangelo
woman, standing. The graceful, vigorous head with its delicate
oval, the strong, fine nose, the gentle, lowered eyes are all elabo-
rated in full detail. Her undeniable gravity merges into a femi-
ninity softer than what we usually expect from Michelangelo.
One of his most charming and carefully drawn women's heads,
widely known for its artful coiffure and curious head-covering is
in the British Museum (Berenson i68g), and there are also several
copies painstakingly reproducing the shading. For no sound reason
it is often titled Vittoria Colomw. A noteworthy feature is the
heavy braid that falls down in an arc, to be fastened above the
neck. It appears heavier at the end than at the roots. Another is
the scale-covered, feathered hood that hides part of the hair like
a light, silk-lined helmet.
The profile is austere and beautiful, marked by a long, straight
nose and calm, deep-seated eyes. There is something queenly in
the whole attitude, as though the lady were inured to being re-
garded with awe. 0


Michelangelo's contemporaries were overwhelmed by the

beauty of this drawing. Vasari relates that he presented three
marvelous portrait studies (including the so-called Zenobia) to
Gherardo Perini, which later came into the possession of Grand-
duke Francesco, "who guarded them as though they were precious
jewels, which indeed they are." Cavalieri presented the drawing
called Cleopatra to Duke Cosimo in i562. The surviving letter
that accompanied the gift emphasizes its immense value.
Cleopatra seems to have been drawn about i533. Unfortu-
nately the original is lost. There are, however, three copies, the
0 A drawing in red chalk, Cat. No. 42. The version in the British Museum is re-

garded by J. Wilde as the original.

The Draftsman 369
best one in the Casa Buonarroti, the other two in the British
Museum and the Museum Boymans, Rotterdam. This memorable
drawing seems to have been suggested by Piero di Cosimo's por-
trait of Simonetta Vespucci, now in Chantilly, to which it shows
some resemblances. Cleopatra is represented as a bust turned to
the left, with the head looking to the right-it bears no resem-
blance to the historic Cleopatra, by the way. The lines are ravish-
ing. The queen is shown in the hour of her death, majestic of head,
with large, sorrowful eyes and a sad, sensual mouth. A long ser-
pent, its tail visible beside the right shoulder, is wound about her
magnificent body, biting into the bare left breast. The regal im-
pression is enhanced by the odd coiffure, a wreath of braids above
a plentiful fringe of hair, more of which rises from the top of the
head like a flame.
Also of noteworthy beauty and akin to some of the drawings
already described is one in the Uffizi (Berenson 1626), showing
a tall, slender woman in almost full prole. The extraordinarily
handsome features bear an expression of hate and contempt that
shows in the flaring nostrils, the brilliantly drawn mouth and the
large, vigorously shaped chin. The breasts, both of them visible
on account of a slight turn in the body, are unusually well-
developed. The fabric covering them is so thin that they seem
almost bare, with both nipples prominent. She too seems to repre-
sent a queen. She wears a headband, held together in the middle
with a great gemstone. On her head is a half-helmet with a great,
arched crest that follows the curve of the neck, flaring outward
below it. A standing collar completes the costume, which is of
oddly exotic cut.
To the left behind the lady is a child, to the right the baroque
figure of a man of hostile demeanor. The drawing is today titled
Venus, Mars and Cupid 0 and is regarded as one of the three
presentation drawings for Perini.
Florence, Uffizi, Cat. No. i85. Regarded by J. Wilde and L. Goldscheider as an
original, by others attributed to Bachiacca.


The Archers (Windsor Castle; Berenson 1613), a painstaking

drawing of great vitality dating from the year 1530, as shown from
a letter fragment on the back, is primarily a study of nude youths
running, leaping and soaring forward side by side. The attitudes
of the supple, powerful backs and legs all represent varieties of
the act of aiming a bow (which is omitted, by the way) at a target,
a herma at the extreme right, with a well-modeled nude trunk,
in front of which is mounted a long shield. At this the archers are
aiming, with indifferent success, for one of the arrows has struck
the herma in the body, while another is firmly embedded in the
Michelangelo lovingly drew the slender, sunlit backs of these
youths, gleaming as in a Greek palaestra. A few rather undiffer-
entiated girls mingle with the throng of youths-one of them at
the extreme right, her sex actually revealed only by her long,
braided hair. One vacant spot at the extreme left is taken up by
a satyrlike figure, bow in hand. The space at the bottom on both
sides is filled with figures of children, the two at the left bringing
up firewood, a theme that recurs with Michelangelo, and blowing
into a fire in which they perhaps wish to temper arrowheads.
At the right lies Cupid, fast asleep, his head resting against a
pillow, a long bow across his knee. His quiver lies before him.
Frey discovered an ancient model for this drawing, in a panel
on the ceiling of the House of Nero, partly uncovered even in
Michelangelo's time, showing a herma with shield and five archers.
It was copied by Francisco de Hollanda. There are also a number
of literary sources for the allegory in the drawing. Conze found
a passage in Lucian's Nigrinus, where the human spirit is com-
pared with a target, at which many marksmen aim the arrows of
The Draftsman 371
speech. Others have conjectured the allegory represents man,
driven by his instincts, making chase after false fortune. Lucian,
however, speaks of good marksmen and bad, of arrows that hit
or miss. Words that move the mind are likened to shots that hit
the black. They gratify the soul.
Thode has drawn attention to a passage in Marius Equicola's
Libra di natura d'amore, according to which the allegory is meant
to show the contrast between heavenly and earthly love. This
would make the presence of Cupid as a slumbering archer among
the many alert ones more plausible. Both Thode and Symonds
cite one of Michelangelo's poems: Non esempre di colpa aspra e
mortale. The sestet of the sonnet on heavenly and mortal love uses
the image of archery:
To this, the love of which I speak aspires.
Woman is different and seldom worth
The fiery love which only strong hearts know.

One pulls me to the heaven, the other to earth,

One in the soul dwells, one in sensual fires
And to attain base things will draw the bow.
That Michelangelo, as was his custom, must have had some
symbolic meaning in mind is as certain as that the meaning does
not really matter. The importance of the drawing in no wise de-
pends on it. The Archers simply records Michelangelo's pleasure
at the sight and representation of groups of youthful bodies, for
the most part male, twisting and turning in lively, stressful action.
It stands as testimony to his unique genius for composition. The
group of running and leaping youths is harmoniously rounded out
with a youth for example, who, having stumbled to his knees, puts
out his left leg and still gets off his arrow at point-blank range.
Still another drawing deserves mention for its singularly imagi-
native treatment. Appropriately titled The Dream of Human Life
(private collection, London; Berenson 1748B), it was engraved
in copper even in Michelangelo's lifetime, and copies in oil are
in the National Gallery, London, and the Vienna Gallery.
372 Michelangelo
A youth is seated in graceful attitude on an open, boxlike base,
leaning back and supporting himself with both arms against a great
globe. A winged angel, soaring headlong down from heaven, his
fine legs extended in the air, holds his trumpet against the youth's
right ear and has just awakened him from sleep.
All about, as though seen through a mist, are tiny groups show-
ing the sleeper's dream images and unconscious desires. Some are
battling, to symbolize contentiousness and lust for power, others
portray greed for riches. Men and women copulate ferociously and
every manner of sin and vice is revealed.

Michelangelo always regarded the art of drawing with pro-

found respect. It was to him the common source of painting,
sculpture and architecture. He held its mastery to be a requisite
for all other artistic skills. He did not lay aside pen and crayon
until old age caused his trembling hand to refuse him obedience.
Several phases can be distinguished in his approach to drafts-
manship. In the pen-and-ink medium he started out with closely
spaced strokes that crossed to indicate shadow and he modeled
the inner and outer structure with a care approaching pedantry.
This was followed by a freer style, as in the above-described draw-
ing of the seated woman in the British Museum. The pen curves
and leaps in broader strokes, modeling carefully but without re-
gard to the effect of light. After the tum of the century he began
to favor a more purely pictorial style, trading his pen for red and
black chalk. Contour grew less important than the transitions from
light to shade. With his soft crayon he was able to lend depth to
the shadows and a kind of prismatic range to his halftones.
The Draftsman 373
Under the influence of Vittoria Colonna, of a surety, he began
to treat of Christian themes-a purely human and creative interest
had already earlier drawn him thither, especially to the Old Testa-
ment. Yet if we judge correctly, before he made the acquaintance
of the Marchesa di Pescara it was usually the commission itself
that dictated the choice of subject in this area.
Following the surrender of Florence, the victorious general,
Alfonso d'Avalos, urgently importuned Michelangelo for some
work, a drawing in red or black chalk. Since the artist had been
spared, despite his participation in the city's defense, he could not
very well refuse.
He decided to do a cartoon, Christ Taking Leave of His
Mother, for which we still have a few slight sketches. Fleeting
as they are, it must be admitted that they are more soulful than
the Christ in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, botched by Montelupo
and provided with an apron by the popes. Indeed, they have more
emotional content than the Christ in the Last Judgment, done by
the artist's own hand. The two surviving studies are in England
(Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; Berenson i396A).
The statue of Christ in Santa Maria sopra Minerva seems flat
and bungled when compared with Michelangelo's pen and ink
drawing for it. This drawing is a fine piece of work, though the
upper part of the body is given only in outline, the lower part
alone having been finished (private collection, London; Berenson
i543). The expression in the drawing is tragic, where in the statue
it is merely vacant, skillful as is the figure's pose.
Of high technical competence, though without any real re-
ligious inspiration, is a drawing of a nude Madonna with nude
child (British Museum, London; Berenson i493). It shows a care-
fully modeled muscular woman with the child, in a rather odd
attitude, bestriding her knee as in the Madonna group in the
Medici Chapel. There is thus a chance that this is one of several
studies for this group. If so, it altogether lacks the sublime grace
of the sculpture itself.


In the years around i536 Michelangelo was evidently deeply

preoccupied with the Resurrection of Christ, the miracle of Easter,
commended to him in all likelihood by Vittoria Colonna. This is
perhaps the occasion to discuss at greater length the change within
him initiated by his acquaintance with this devout lady.
All his life Michelangelo had remained a good Catholic, never
having been touched by the theoretical paganism of the humanists
or the antipapism of the Lutherans. Yet his whole inner nature
was one flaming protest against the Christian repudiation of na-
ture, against the view that the human body was something to be
ashamed of. Unconsciously Michelangelo was a pagan to the core.
Nor was his more or less inherent religious disposition touched
by the fact that his passionate temperament and restless artist's
soul endowed him all his life with the fires of sensuality. The poem,
Al cor di zolfo, alle carne di stoppo, is a confession rather than a
momentary mood:

With heart of sulphur and with flesh of tow,

With bone designed of dry and rotting wood,
With spirit lacking any guide to show
Which impulses are evil and which good,

With reason which displays itself so weak

Confronted with a world so full of snares,
It is no wonder that my flesh should break
When it first stumbles on such furious fires.

Time and again Michelangelo reverts to the theme that age,

against his hopes, never quenched the fires of the senses. No rea-
sonable man can have any doubt that at the age of sixty he fell
The Drafrsman 375
head over heels in love when he first met Vittoria Colonna, then
forty-seven, who fervently admired him for his art. There is tell-
ing evidence in the poem, D'altrui piestoso e sol do se spietato
(To others merciful, and only to itself unkind), which can be
dated the spring of 1535, being written on the back of a letter to
Michelangelo from Pierantonio (Cecchini) in Rome.
The poem breathes the firiest sensuality. Michelangelo com-
pares himself to a silkworm dying for the welfare of mankind. He
would dearly die for "his ruler," here from the context clearly
meaning "his lady"; and the word colonna, dragged in, so to speak,
leaves no doubt as to who is meant. Gladly would he exchange his
hide for a gonna, a long robe worn by women, to clasp her fair
breast with its two snow-white hillocks, gladly be the sandal that
might serve as base and pillar ( colonna) for the fair body:

For if that skin were mine I could at least

Be woven in a gown to clasp that breast,
And so embrace the beauty which I crave.

Then would I gladly die. Or could I save

My Lord's feet from the rain by being shoes
Upon his feet-this also would I choose.

Yet it would be quite erroneous to assume there was, however,

briefly, an erotic liaison between Michelangelo and Vittoria Co-
lonna. Such a thing is out of the question. She firmly rebuffed his
every approach. Indeed, as he was approaching his seventieth year
she asked him to write her no more, since she wished to concen-
trate on meditation and prayer and was not disposed to answer.
On July 20, 1542, from the Convent at Viterbo, she wrote him:
"Noble Messer Michelangelo. I have not sooner answered your
letter, because in a way it was a reply to mine. If we are to keep
on writing each other, I should have to neglect the chapel of St.
Catherine here, forego meeting with the company of sisters at the
appointed time; while you would have to interrupt your work in
the Pauline Chapel, could not before daybreak discourse with
376 Michelangelo
your pictures, which speak to you no less naturally than the liv-
ing creatures that surround me. Thus would we both offend, I
against the sisters, you against Christ's Vicar. Since I know your
steadfast friendship for me, and your devotion rooted in the bonds
of Christianity, methinks I need bear no witness by letter but may,
in spiritual preparedness, await the occasion to serve you, sending
a prayer to the Lord above, about whom you spoke so warmly and
humbly at my departure from Rome. I shall pray him to let me
find you again, his image in your soul, renewed in the true and
living faith, as you have represented him in your drawing of The
Woman of Samaria at the Well."
The mannered epistolary style and pronounced devoutness
clearly disprove even a hint of the kind of association that might
have had a background or past of fleshly love. Not even a nun
could have more completely disavowed all sentiment that was
anything but spiritual.
All the stronger was the spiritual influence the marchesa ex-
erted upon Michelangelo. It is expressed with poetic fervor in the
madrigal, Un uomo in una donna, anzi uno dio:
God speaks through woman's lips, not man alone-
Almighty God on high-
And listing to her, I
Can call no longer my own soul my own.
Now that I must bemoan
The self which she has taken,
How can I but make self-pity a duty?
The beauty I have known,
All vanity forsaken,
Makes me behold but death in other beauty.
0 Lady, do your duty-
To joy my soul through water lead, and fire,
Nor to myself again let me aspire.
Clearly the poem implies complete conversion, a turning away
from the self. Michelangelo had heretofore taken it for granted
that he must love beauty, wherever he beheld it. All he had
The Draftsman 377
striven for was to purify such instincts and sentiments as he felt.
His pronounced sensual nature had made him indifferent to the
Christian doctrine of renunciation.
Under the impact of the changing times and the personality of
Vittoria Colonna, regrets and doubts about the value of his profes-
sion now began to haunt Michelangelo. She insisted that the
Christian faith was the power by means of which he could master
those base instincts he was at times unable to control; and he be-
gan to view his glorious past with jaundiced eyes, looked back on
his life as on a concatenation of disordered passion. His repentance
took the form of such a statue as the Rachel in the Julius tomb, re-
placing the tragic and defiant Captives. He wrote repenant son-
nets and-sometimes at Vittoria's express request-did a series
of pious drawings.


Sensual exuberance turned into religious ecstasy. Erotic fancies

were now but unwelcome visitations. His whole intellectual and
emotional life was pervaded by a kind of praying for forgiveness
for the pagan art of his youth. Michelangelo thought he was sur-
rendering to the love of God.
It was against this background that he directed his mind toward
the Resurrection of Christ. Perhaps he was at first interested only
in drawing the main figure. The risen Christ welcomes the light
with both arms, having emerged and ascended from his somber
grave to the fresh air, like a muscular Apollo, his shroud fluttering
about him like capacious mantle (Windsor Castle; Berenson i6i6).
He is preeminently engaged in an act of free will, though he seems
also to be drawn by some supernatural power. The drawing, done
with great love and care, addresses the sense of art rather than
the emotions.
378 Michelangelo
The theme is repeated in another drawing (Windsor Castle;
Berenson i612). Indeed, the whole situation is there elaborated,
on the basis of St. Matthew, chapters 27 and 28. The tomb which
Joseph of Arimathaea had hewn into the rock provides the gloomy
background, against which the sarcophagus stands obliquely. The
soldiers, no less than thirteen of them, are negligent in their
watch. Most of them lie sleeping on the ground. One of them, who
had found a resting-place on the stone slab that forms the lid of
the sarcophagus, is hurled aside as the tomb opens and vainly
clings to the heavy stone.
Michelangelo ignores the account of the angel of the Lord
rolling back the stone from the door. His risen Christ has no need
of angels. Here too, in a passionate gesture, he lifts above his head
the arms with which he has burst open the tomb. Those members
of the watch who have awakened are seized with terror, as St.
Matthew relates. In their nudity they take on every conceivable
position that will help them grasp the miracle, yet they remain
simply and effectively grouped to maintain equilibrium, compos-
ing a kind of pyramid to each side of the powerful figure of the
risen Christ.
We know from Condivi that Michelangelo, "for love of Vit-
toria Colonna drew for her a Christ crucified, living in attitude
rather than dead, his face lifted up to his father, as though calling
out: Eli, Eli!"
Six drawings of the crucifixion have come down to us. On
two of them Christ's arms are raised as in a St. Andrew's cross,
on the rest they are horizontally extended.
The drawing coming closest to Condivi's description is the
carefully finished one which Michelangelo gave to the Marchesa
di Pescara (British Museum; Frey 287). Beneath the crossarms
are two mourning angels. At the foot of the cross lies a skull. The
body of the crucified is powerfully built, as is to be expected of
More noteworthy, though shallower in emotional depth, is an-
other drawing, a Descent from the Cross (Teyler Museum, Haar-
The Draftsman 379
lem; Berenson 2480). It is particularly eloquent in conveying a
sense of the difficulty encountered in taking down the body. Its
figures are masterfully assembled into a single living tangle; and
the drawing forms a kind of transition toward the treatment of
this theme by Rubens.


There is one subject, in the treatment of which Michelangelo's

essential nature burst through rich and full, even in the time when
he had come under the influence of Vittoria Colonna. This is in
the scene, taken from St. Mark, where Jesus drives out of the tem-
ple them that sold and bought, and overthrows the tables of the
moneychangers and the seats of them that sold doves (drawings
in the British Museum, Cat. Nos. 76, 77, 78).
Here it is matter of one pitting his powers against many, the
great and exalted one versus the petty shopkeeper mentality. It
was the act of a judge who censured, chastised and struck hard.
Quite likely Michelangelo, at the time these drawings were con-
ceived, was preoccupied with the popular cause of ecclesiastic re-
form, whose advocates-Reginald Pole, Gaspare Contarini, Ber-
nardino Ochino-were at the time Vittoria Colonna's closest
friends. Actually, at the time the drawings were done, about i555,
Contarini and Vittoria were already dead and Pole and Ochino no
longer in Italy.
The mildness with which these men pursued church reform
was scarcely in character with Michelangelo. He took delight in
letting his Christ wield the scourge. He shows Christ as a power-
ful nude figure holding a whip. He worked out a whole series
of drawings before, on the fifth attempt, he found the grouping
that best accorded with his basic notion.
The moneychangers sit or stand at low tables. The dove deal-
380 Michelangelo
ers carry their baskets of birds on their heads. Jesus has opened
a way through the crowd, dealing out blows from his whip to the
right and left. Many flee before him. A few drag away boxes. The
changers hurriedly scoop up their coins.
Michelangelo never did anything with this masterly drawing.
Marcello Venusti did a crowded but mediocre painting from it,
now on view at the National Gallery in London.
Michelangelo represented Jesus as the great taskmaster, the
supreme judge and nemesis. Having himself conceived a deep
revulsion against man, he felt at one with God in the role of
world judge.
The Last Judgment


in 1528. Though there had been minor clashes between the two,
Michelangelo had been fonder of him than of any other member
of his family. Father Lodovico, to whom he was devoted with filial
piety despite the strong dissension that prevailed at times be-
tween father and son, died in his nineties and the great son set
him a monument in a capitolo of tercets. Here are a few of its
finest lines:
Now you have died of death and are in heaven
No more in fear of life's vicissitudes-
Alasl if I were but such respite given;
382 Michelangelo
Nor time nor destiny, whose fickle moods
Are ever certain to bring woe to others,
Your threshold darkens and your world obtrudes.
Yet his father's death helped rupture the bond that had tied
Michelangelo to Florence, although he remained there for another
three years.

As early as his sojourn in Rome from the fall of 1533 to the

spring of 1534 Michelangelo had received a commission from
Clement VII to paint a Last Judgment on the altar wall of the
Sistine Chapel, as well as a Fall of the Angels on the entrance
wall. (This second work was never executed.)
On Clement's death, in September 1534, his successor, Paul
III, again took up the project for a fresco of the Last Judgment.
Since it was originated by the last Medici on the papal throne, Paul
did not insist on having the Farnese crest appear on the altar wall.
For the last time the three renowned balls were depicted there.
The master had embarked on a cartoon for the fresco while Clement
was still alive and, to judge from a number of surviving drawings,
was apparently disposed to make major changes in it. Paul III,
however, insisted that the design approved by Clement be rigidly
Michelangelo found nothing absurd in the ancient Hebrew no-
tion of a Creator who, after eons of tedious solitude, wrought earth
and life as a kind of grandiose disciplinary institution for mankind;
then, dissatisfied with his work, engaged in the hapless experiment
of the Deluge; and finally destroyed that work himself on a Day
of Judgment. On the contrary, it went well with his hot temper
and sense of frustration. Celano's hymn echoed in his mind:
Dies irae, dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.

(Comes the day of retribution

When the world dissolves in ashes,
As the sibyl said, and David.)
The Last Judgment 383
David never dreamed of such a thing and the sibyl never existed,
comments Renan in a passage where he cites these lines. But to
the men of 1500 these myths still retained the vitality they pos-
sessed for Dante two hundred years before.
People clung to Christian dogma in all its contradictions. The
body-or, as it was put, the flesh-was sinful and only the pirit
was pure and everlasting. Yet the corruption of the flesh in the
grave was but a passing phase-on the Day of Judgment it would
rise again. The graves would open and all their terrors see the light
of day. The dead would once again clothe themselves in their long-
rotted mortal shells, then to be summoned before heaven's high-
est court of judgment. The blessed would be rewarded with
everlasting bliss in the mansions of heaven, while the damned
would be plunged into the nethermost depths of hell, where there
is everlasting fear and torment. Thus would come the Day of
Justice and Judgment.


The divine judge had already been described by the prophet

Isaiah. By ancient Hebrew tradition he comes on the Day of the
Lord, the day of his flaming wrath, the day of vengeance. He turns
the world into a wilderness, exterminates its sinners.
The prophet Micah describes him as the Lord God of the
Heavenly Hosts, who stand to his right and to his left. The prophet
Joel has the Day of the Lord proclaimed by fanfares from the
trumpets of Zion. Isaiah is responsible for the judge's gesture.
When the wrath of the Lord has been kindled, his hand is stretched
out, and even when he has struck, making the mountains to trem-
ble, his hand remains stretched out. He shaketh the heavens, and
the earth shall remove out of her place before the wrath of the
Lord of Sabaoth.
Thus does the Old Testament pave the way for the growth of
the myth; and it is on this foundation that the New Testament
384 Michelangelo
builds. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read that the Lord cometh
with many thousand saints, and in 1 Corintl1ians that these saints
are to judge the world. Thus heaven is populated on the Day of
Both the Old and New Testaments see to it that hell is not un
tenanted. "Thou, 0 God, shalt bring them down into the pit of
destruction," says Psalm 55; and Chapter 8 of the Gospel Accord
ing to St. Matthew threatens the children of the Kingdom with
being cast out into outer darkness where there shall be weeping
and gnashing of teeth.
In Michelangelo's picture of the Last Judgment this plunge
into the abyss is balanced by the soaring aloft of the redeemed.
In the fourth chapter of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians we
read: "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a
shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of
God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; Then we which are
alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the
clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." And similarly, in the eleventh
chapter of the Revelation of St. Jolin the Divine; "And they as
cended up to heaven in a cloud."
That the angels blowing the trumpets were seven in number
Michelangelo learned from Revelation 8, 2. There too he found
that there are two books from which judgment is rendered-and
which the angels hold in his fresco-a Book of Life, often men
tioned in the Old Testament (Exodus, 32, 32; Psalm 69, 28; Daniel,
12, 1), and a second book in which the misdeeds of the dead are
All these theological minutiae provided the artist with themes
for the composition of his great fresco.


There were earlier pictorial representations of the Last Judg-

ment, elements of which flashed through Michelangelo's memory
The Last Judgment 385
and were utilized. Worthy of mention in this connection are Giot-
to's painting on the wall of the Camposanto in Pisa, Giovanni
Pisano's sculpture on the pulpit of San Andrea in Pistoia, and
Fra Angelico's and Signorelli's frescoes in Orvieto. Finally there is
the reverse side of a m edallion his old teacher Bertoldo had made
for Archbishop Filippo de' Medici (Hill, No. 914).
Tradition required Jesus to appear at the very top, hand up-
raised, bathed in radiance, surrounded by the saintly host, the
angels blowing their trumpets below. The saved were arrayed to
the left below, the damned to the right. Bertoldo had already
shown cross and column being erected above the figure of Jesus,
each by a single angel. As for the nudity of the figures, the dead
rising from the ground, and Charon and his ferry, Luca Signorelli
had pointed the way.
But if Michelangelo took over this entire theological and ar-
tistic tradition, it was only to recast it completely into a vast dra-
matic panorama, a sequence of struggle and suffering that reflects
the unending tragedy of man's life. There is no forgiveness of
cruelty and injustice here, no River Lethe, only Styx, and the serene
Greek ferryman has become a brutal executioner's henchman ply-
ing the waters of the underworld, in the Etruscan tradition.
In the nature of the subject, one might expect an even dis-
tribution of bliss and torment. But with Michelangelo bliss draws
the short end of the deal. The graves open and spew forth their
horror. The saved seem to be storming heaven as a fortified castle
was stormed in the Renaissance, rather than to be feeling joy at
being reunited with loved ones, from whom they were separated
for centuries. The judge of heaven, reminiscent of Zeus hurling
Phaethon into the depths with his thunderbolt, is far less inclined
to acquit than to condemn. This Jesus, his huge form dominating
the painting, beside whom even his mother seems to feel small
and powerless, embodies all Michelangelo's loathing of the indig-
nities he had suffered, his condemnation born of revulsion. His
contempt for his times is as sincere and profound as that which
inspired the great Dante to consign to his Inferno the contem-
poraries who misjudged and exiled him. Small wonder one British
386 Miclz elangelo
Protestant said the fresco would have been eminently suited to
adorn a hall where the Inquisition held its sessions.


Yet the painting is still so utterly a product of the Renaissance

that it was precisely the Inquisitors and their henchmen who took
offense at it. Aretino would not have so brazenly professed indig-
nation at the nude figures, had he not known that the spirit of the
Counter Reformation would regard them as a desecration.
In the year of Michelangelo's death Andrea Giulio da Fabiano
published Due Dialoghi, in which he attacked not only the nudity
of the figures in the master's Last Judgment but also the many
deviations from Christian tradition-the beardless Jesus7flie aloof
Madonna, who should be displaying the same revulsion of the
damned as her son, the wingless angels, the portrayal of devils sans
hooves and horns, the appearance of Charon, a figure from Greek
Many of the devout doubtless resented as well the fact that
three frescoes by Perugino were torn down to make room for these
nude figures. They included not only the altar piece proper, an
Assumption, but a picture of St. Peter, indeed, one of Jesus him-
self, worthy paintings on which the sacred persons were shown
clothed, as decency demanded.
In the world of art, however, Perugino was not so highly
estimated that the loss was regarded as intolerable, especially
since there was no alternative, if room was to be made. More
astonishing is the fact that Michelangelo laid hands on two of his
own lunettes with the Ancestors of Christ, painted as part of the
ceiling decorations, which were sacrificed to make room for the
two groups of angels with cross and column, now taking up the
topmost panels. There had been no thought of such groups at the
The Last Judgment 387
outset. They are absent from the earliest sketch for the Last
Judgment, the rough drawing now in the Casa Buonarroti.
This is a noteworthy drawing. It is dominated by the giant
figure of Christ, compared to which all others are of smaller stature.
Even here is seen the condemnatory gesture of the hand, hurling
the damned into the abyss. But posture and entire attitude of the
Madonna are quite different from the actual painting. She too is
drawn in the nude. Half-kneeling, she bends toward her irate son,
imploring him for mercy with outstretched arms, one of her hands
brushing his right thigh.
Most detailed in this drawing is the left side of the composi-
tion, where individual figures strive to the fore from the dense
throng. At the extreme lower left the awakening to life is indi-
cated. At bottom right one perceives the reception of a sinner and
a plunge of the damned not seen at that place in the painting.
In the center of the drawing three or four angels blowing long
trumpets are lightly sketched in black chalk. Otherwise the center
portion and the extreme right are still quite empty. Several of the
black chalk contours are carefully redrawn in ink.
Similar in character, but indicating a more advanced stage in
the studies for the Last Judgment, is a sheet preserved in the Brit-
ish Museum, with drawings on both sides. On one side are two
male heads, looking down, apparently life studies. Turning the-
sheet around, one sees lightly drawn black chalk contours of
small figures, falling or struggling. On the reverse side are several
sketches for the powerful figure of the Judge, lacking a head, and
over these groups of saints, done with great finesse and imagina-
tion. On the left side are various angels, so called, engaged in vio-
lent struggle, using brute force and mighty blows of their fists to
send whole heaps of naked men and women plunging through the
air and into the abyss.
Masterly as the sketch is, it has a sinister aspect. It is as though
Michelangelo's whole disgust with ignoble mankind, which in his
younger years found expression in his representation of the Flood
and of the Brazen Serpent on the Sistine ceiling, had in the course
388 Michelangelo
of time and with his bitter experiences grown to such a degree
that he felt no compunction whatever in charging the angels of
heaven with the task of passing forcible judgment on a race that
deserved only to perish.
In the Uffizi is still another sketch, lightly drawn in black
chalk, in which Christ is shown entirely nude, pronouncing judg-
ment with mien and gesture close to those in the painting,
while a barely hinted Mary bends toward him, somewhat as in the
first study. To the right here a large mass of martyrs are seen, among
whom St. Lawrence with his gridiron can be clearly distinguished.
Most of the others are shown in attitudes that bear no relation to
those used in the painting.

One aspect involved in a painting of the resurrection of the

flesh was bound to warm Michelangelo's heart. Nudity was part
and parcel of the whole concept. It was the bodies that were to
rise, not their garments. It thus seems particularly absurd that the
bigots should have taken such offense at his treatment.
On April i6, i535, the joiner Perino del Capitano received
twenty-five florins for the erection of a scaffold. There were many
preparations to be made. Five paintings by Perugino and Michel-
angelo had to be removed. Two windows had to be walled up
and the wall itself prepared. Michelangelo ordered it to be in-
clined forward by about half an ell toward the top, hoping in this
fashion to protect his work against the accumulation of dust.
Sebastiano del Piombo had persuaded the pope that the paint-
ing would look best in oil, and the wall was therefore prepared
to receive oil pigments. This delayed the beginning of the work,
since Michelangelo declared oil-painting to be an effeminate art
and insisted on painting al fresco, as he had done with the ceil-
The Last Judgment 389
ing. The wall surface had to be done over. The irate artist ever
after severed all contact with his former protege Sebastiano.
Until spring 1536 Michelangelo busied himself solely with
the cartoons and never set hand to the work itself. He began
with the painting between mid-April and mid-May 1536. In Feb-
ruary 1537 he received a visit from the pope, who wished to see
how the work was progressing. On November 20, 1537 Michel-
angelo replied to Pietro that it was largely finished. This we can
scarcely take in the literal sense, for the work was not completed
until October 1541. Yet by 1537 the composition was no doubt
already roughed out substantially as it was finally executed.
It must have been a strange experience for Michelangelo once
again to be standing on a scaffold to paint a vast fresco in the very
chapel where, twenty-eight years before, he had locked himself
in to paint the ceiling; and surely it must have been his intent to
outdo what he had done then. Presumably this was the moment
when he turned his back on paganism and was about to throw
himself into the open arms of his Redeemer. Yet the image in
which the Savior manifested himself to Michelangelo first and
most strongly was that of the Judge. The ancient Hebrew doc-
trine of retribution, with its glorification of vengeance as the
Lord's essential attribute ("vengeance is mine"), was much closer
to his mentality than any gospel of love, any doctrine of grace
and forgiveness.
It is true that the features of Christ are spiritualized, despite
his powerful build, yet the expression is hard and cold like that of
a judge pronouncing sentence. It holds no welcoming smile for
the ascending blessed-indeed neither he nor the allegedly saved
can be envisioned as blissful or ecstatic. It is at his behest that the
massive angels, flying without wings, blow their trumpets or hurl
the ineligible from the heavenly realm. On his orders the execu-
tioner demons take on the damned for torture. Michelangelo cer-
tainly cannot be charged with sentimentality, in contrast to so
many modern paintings, where Christ appears repulsively effem-
inate. His Christ epitomizes justice and the gesture of his hands
390 Michelangelo
follows the example of older and gentler painters (no less ortho-
dox in this point, however) in expressing deep revulsion. Yet in
Michelangelo this disgust is conceived differently and more deeply
than by Fra Angelico, for example, who was still pervaded by a
fundamental love of man. By the time he had reached the age of
sixty, Michelangelo looked on mankind as repulsive in the mass.


Yet it is not true that his Last I udgment is, as has been asserted,
one great cry of vengeance. Grouped in heaven stand the disciples
of Jesus and their successors, as well as his ancestors back to Adam.
There are patriarchs here, and apostles, prophets, martyrs and
angels, picturesquely arranged in serried ranks, in admirable mas-
tery of technique.
Ancient Adam stands hugely to the left of Christ, the new
Adam, devouring him with his eyes. Close to him is the guiltless
Abel, and on Adam's other side, closest to Christ, is the Good
Thief. A magnificent group, perhaps the finest in the great fresco,
is formed by a huge, half-naked woman, surely Eve, protecting a
young woman kneeling before he1:{ ~With a motherly gesture Eve
touches the back of the girl seeking refuge, who, by the way, is
fully dressed. .
Closest to Jesus on the right is a young man who can be only
St. John. He forms a counterpart to the Madonna, but with the dif-
ference that he is completely absorbed in contemplating the Mas-
ter, while the Madonna, seeming to droop in pity and dismay, has
eyes for neither Jesus nor anyone else but looks down in inward
musing. The counterpart on the right to the hulking figure of Adam
is formed by St. Peter, no less large and conspicuous. He holds the
key to heaven in his hand and seems to ask his Lord for whom he
is to throw open the gate.
The Last Judgment 391
The question comes too late. For there is no longer any gate,
and heaven is being assaulted like a fortress by the rising hosts.
As already mentioned, it is defended by strong-armed angels who
deal out blows to those seeking entry without leave.
Deeper, beneath the feet of Jesus, two great figures are seen to
the right and left, St. Lawrence with his gridiron and St. Bartholo-
mew, holding in his left hand the skin that has been Hayed from
off his body (in which Michelangelo portrayed himself). Behind
Bartholomew we see head and shoulders of a kneeling youth,
surely meant to represent the Apostle Thomas. On the fresco
this head, like so many other portions of the work, has been over-
painted almost out of recognition; but on the old copy by Mar-
cello Venusti in the Naples Museum," its peculiar beauty is note-
worthy, and there is much in favor of Thode's conjecture that
Michelangelo here sought to set a memorial to his admired young
friend Tommaso Cavalieri, giving his features to his apostle name-
The row of saints is continued to the right with St. Catherine,
bending over the wheel on which she was martyred, and St. Sebas-
tian, kneeling and holding in his left hand the arrows that had
pierced him.
The center space among all these figures is occupied by the
mighty angels with the trumpets and the two books, of life and
judgment. On the left are the ascending saved, on the right the
plunging damned, in well-organized composition, down to the
base of the picture, which shows the rising from the graves on
the left, and Charon's boat on the right, with the demons' brutal
reception of his passengers. At the extreme right stands Minos,
encircled by serpents, ready to judge those who have been found
wanting (Dante's Inferno, 21). The story goes that Michelangelo
gave the tormented Minos the features of the papal master of
ceremonies, Biagio, who was the first to quibble over the nude
0 Since 1957 all the pictures of the Museo Nazionale in Naples are housed in the

Pinacoteca Reggia di Capodimonte.



The task set Michelangelo was inherently insoluble: to marshal

all mankind down the centuries for judgment face to face with the
Lord of Heaven, in a painting free of confusion and pleasing to the
eye. The first problem was how to divide up the space. This was
a land of pure imagination, as it was in Dante's Divine Comedy.
It had to be so organized as to afford stages for the various scenes
-a new world rising, an old one crashing.
Basically the theme was religious in character and overdrama-
tization had to be avoided. Here Michelangelo was in no danger,
for his art always remained distinct from the later histrionics of
the baroque.
What fascinated Michelangelo was the occasion, not only for
venting his bitter resentment, but for displaying his full skill in
representing the human body in every conceivable attitude-stand-
ing and walking, lying and kneeling, rising and falling, hovering
and soaring, bending, twisting, leaping, striking. out, climbing,
grappling. Here at last was the place where his every experience,
all the studies he had ever made, would stand him in good stead.
Here was an unparalleled opportunity to show his lifetime knowl-
edge of the structure and movements of the body, to show it in
boldest foreshortening-yet ever and always as an expression of
inward struggle, heroic stature, lofty and tragic sentiment, or of
unrestrained passion and every manner of grief, horror and tor-
His worship of nudity still made him entirely a man of the
Renaissance. True, he was no longer the fervent young man, drunk
with beauty, who painted the frescoes on the ceiling of the chapel.
He had become a virtuoso in a field in which he was already un-
disputed master. Yet inside he was really unchanged. The human
The Last I udgment 393
body to him was the only object worthy of great art. Clothes and
landscape he utterly ignored. Even his angels have limbs and mus-
cles that are completely of this world. In one of the lunettes at the
top they struggle with the great cross like a team of sweating work-
men. In the other they have their hands full erecting the heavy
column on which Jesus was scourged. One of them is in imminent
danger of being crushed beneath its base. They manhandle it
more roughly than the marblemen of Carrara would wrestle a slab
on to a wagon. The theme may be symbolic, but the treatment is
Like the saints and the humans, the angels are bare to the buff.
It would have run against Michelangelo's innermost convictions
as an artist to gird their loins with even a breech-clout.


But the time was past when the intelligentsia of Italy, humanist
and clerical alike, could take nudity in art for granted. Michel-
angelo's painting was left intact for only fourteen years.
The Last Judgment was completed and unveiled late in i541.
In May i555 the most bigoted of all the cardinals, Giovanni Caraffa,
ascended the papal throne as Paul IV! His first impulse was to have
the whole fresco removed, and it was only with difficulty that he
was dissuaded from such an act of iconoclasm.
Instead, Michelangelo's talented disciple, Daniele da Volterra,
was commissioned to mitigate the offense and paint clothes on the
figures. He also had to change the positions of Sts. Catherine and
Blaise, which the pope regarded as indecent. As we know, Volterra
was ever after known as Il Brachettone (the breeches-maker), but
he discharged his commission with such skill and restraint as to
incur not even the displeasure of Michelangelo.
But after the great artist's death the hubbub over the remain-
394 Michelangelo
ing traces of paganism in the Last Judgment grew more vociferous.
Cardinal Rusticucci persuaded Pius V ( i566-1572) to order two
mediocre painters, Girolamo da Fano and Domenico Camevali,
to carry further the work of dressing up the figures. Under Gregory
XIII ( i572-1585) the fresco was once again in danger of being
altogether removed. The pope proposed to have his court painter,
Lorenzino Sabbatino, replace Michelangelo's "obscenities" with a
picture of Paradise.
Fortunately this extremity was avoided; but under Clem-
ent VIII-who had Tasso crowned in the Capitol and Beatrice
Cenci executed-the Last Judgment was once again bowdlerized.
As late as i762, under Clement XIII, according to an eyewitness,
the "most beautiful nudes" were again dressed in clothes.
Since, in addition, the vast painting was repeatedly cleaned in
the course of the centuries, we can imagine how little the state
in which we see it today accords with its pristine condition at the
time the master laid down his brush. Small wonder the colors to-
day look dingy and muddy.
Quite apart from all the irresponsible damage the picture has
suffered, however, it would not be an unmixed pleasure to ad-
mirers of Michelangelo's earlier work, even if it were well-pre-
served. True, here too the giant among painters was free of the
restraints with which orthodoxy had once shackled art. He still
wallowed ecstatically in representing the human body, individu-
ally or in the mass. At times he achieved the utmost in pathos,
as in the horror-stricken, half-seated flgure, left hand almost cover-
ing his face, who is being dragged down into the abyss by gleeful
But despite this continuing testimony that Michelangelo re-
mained the great-perhaps the greatest-artist of the Renaissance,
the spirit that speaks from this painting is no longer that of the
Renaissance and of humanism. There is less in it of freedom and
harmony, of exuberance, and more of a demand for a weighing
in the balance-the very spirit of dour puritanism that, by a
strange quirk of fate, turned against the work itself, condemned
The Last Judgment 395
it as a work of art, scored it as indecent and irreligious, violated
it by giving the figures flounces, and ultimately, in its fanaticism
destroyed its hues.


The tragic part of it all is that Michelangelo himself, the master

of masters, in the final poems of his old age made common cause,
so to speak, with his detractors, in a way agreeing with them
against himself. Once he had stormed the very heavens. Now he
knuckled under, hearkening to the devout chants of Vittoria
Colonna from behind her convent walls, as she decried the bland-
ishments of humanism. In one of her theological sonnets she sang
the praises of even this work of his. The trumpet sounded from
heaven, proclaiming perdition to those ensnared by gluttony and
lechery. It was all reminiscent of Michelangelo's drawing, The
Dream of Human Life. Vice could not hide from the incandescent
radiance that issued from the eye of God and pierced the heart.
Like Michelangelo in his Last Judgment, Vittoria proclaimed the
need for renewing life and the way of life.
In 1538 Michelangelo had said to Francisco de Hollanda that
true art was in itself exalted and devout; for nothing so ennobled
the soul as the creation of beauty. In 1554 or 1555 he sent Vasari
a sonnet, ruefully repenting his folly of ever having made art the
ruling power of his life. Neither painting nor carving the stone gave
him peace, but solely Love Divine, spreading its arms on the cross.
The drawings of the scourged and crucified Christ (Louvre,
British Museum, Windsor), the frescoes of the Conversion of St.
Paul and the Crucifixion of St. Peter in the Cappella Paolina, the
Pieta with Nicodemus, Magdalene and the Madonna in the
choir of the Florentine cathedral-they all express this mental
state. They still show the old Michelangelesque forms, but they
no longer reflect the spirit that once filled these forms.
Immediately after the completion of the Last Judgment, Pope
Paul III commissioned Michelangelo to decorate his new chapel
in the Vatican, the Cappella Paolina, with two frescoes: The Con-
version of St. Paul, and The Crucifixion of St. Peter.
The Conversion of St. Paul was begun in November i542 and
finished in July i545. The subject gave occasion for a display of
passion, deeply rooted in Michelangelo's nature, which he could
not use in the second fresco.
We are outside Damascus-though the painting conveys no
impression of its pretty gardens, since nothing grows in Michel-
angelo's stony soil. Yet the picture itself breathes fiery life, on two
levels, on earth and in heaven.
Blinded by the apparition that has revealed itself, Saul has
fallen from his mount, which gallops away down the middle of
the picture. Saul lies on the ground, his face toward the beholder,
his hand to his brow. His revelation has dazzled and stunned him.
Remarkably enough, he does not look up at Christ and the heav-
enly host, as in other versions of the scene, though they are shown
as explicitly as in the Last Judgment. Dazed and confused, he is still
pondering the overwhelming vision that has now become truly
All about the unhorsed Saul are groups of men and women in
paroxysmal attitudes of emotion. Some stare aloft numbly, en-
deavoring to cover their eyes. A few have thrown themselves to
the ground. Others flee the scene in terror. Significantly-for
Michelangelo-Christ is not serenely enthroned in heaven, but
soars down feet upward, arms outspread. The right hand points
downward, seeming to command Saul to cease from his persecu-
The Last Judgment 397
Among the heavenly host are several figures of great beauty.
All of them display devout exaltation. A lone angel flies close to
Christ, stretching out folded hands toward him. He stands as a
symbol of the spirit that had laid hold of the aged master's mind.
The Crucifixion of St. Peter took from August i546 to March
i550 to do. As a composition, the work is unexceptionable, Lut the
subject did not fire the artist's imagination. The subject itself is
equivocal-the barbarous crucifixion head down. The master
sought to soften the action by placing the cross obliquely across
the picture and letting St. Peter raise head and shoulders from it,
while turning his suffering gaze toward the beholder. This avoided
the necessity for showing the repulsive spectacle of the martyr's
congested head.
It takes no less than six men to raise up the heavy cross, pre-
liminary to planting it in a hole being dug in the ground. On the
left a group of Roman soldiers, following the orders of mounted
officers, rides up a rise. To the right below a knot of four women
regard the martyr with compassion, while up above crowds of
witnesses or gapers huddle together or come down the rise. Each
figure is immaculately drawn. They are skillfully distributed, leav-
ing no gaps. As always with Michelangelo, the landscape is treeless
and desolate, if not flat, for rolling hills somewhat enliven the
background; but the ground is arid and unrelieved.
Vasari relates that Michelangelo passed the age of 75 while
still at work on it and that, in his own words, the task was ex-
ceedingly burdensome for him, fresco painting not being suit-
able work for men past a certain age.


These were the last pictures Michelangelo painted. Yet life-long

desire still drew him to sculpture. Apparently in an access of Chris-
398 Michelangelo
tian devoutness, he sought to set a tangible memorial to the new
world of feeling that had awakened within him.
He tried at first-according to several sketches now in Oxford
-to create a standing Madonna holding the body of her son up-
right before her, grasping it under the shoulders. The dangling,
lifeless leg is the only part of the sculpture that is finished. By mis-
chance the great artist's mallet struck a wrong blow on the right
arm, and for a long time he left the block untouched.
Beginning over again, he found it necessary to give the arm a
different position behind the body. The hapless first arm remained,
like a disembodied memory of the original design. The change also
enforced an alteration in the proportions, which left head and
body of Christ too small for the finished leg. Besides, in turning the
new arm backward Michelangelo overlooked that this would leave
no room in the block for the Madonna's right arm.
Hence the work remains but a hint in stone. How difficult
Michelangelo found it to give up, down to within a week of his
death, is seen from a letter Daniele da Volterra sent to nephew
Lionardo afterward: "I am not sure I told you in all this that all
day Saturday before carnival [i.e., February 12, 1564] Michel-
angelo worked standing up on the body in the Pieta."
His servant Antonio inherited the misshapen block, which dis-
appeared and was again found, in a cellar, only in mid-seventeenth
century and offered for sale. It was subsequently in the Palazzo
Rondanini, Florence, and is now in the Castello Sforzesco in Milan.
Michelangelo's final work, in a far more advanced state of
completion, though it was abandoned, indeed, smashed by him, is
the large group of four, again a Pieta, that now stands in the
gloomy choir of the Duomo at Florence. Had it not been shattered
to pieces and painstakingly reassembled, it would have surely been
assigned the place for which it was originally meant-his grave.
It too is a late work. From the report of a French traveler we
know he was working on the group full time in 1553; and we see
that two years later, in despair at having spoiled it, he tried to
destroy it. Blaise de Vigenere, in his notes to Philostratus' Imagines
The Last Judgment 399
(Les Images, Paris, i579), wrote: "I saw Michelangelo at work
when he was over sixty [precise age uncertain], 0 and though he
was not very strong, he struck more chips off the defiant mar-
ble block in a quarter-hour than three or four young stone masons
could have done in three or four times as long a time-which may
sound incredible, unless one saw it. So zealous was he that I was
sure the work must break in pieces. With a single blow he struck
off pieces three or four fingers thick, and he struck the marked
point [segno tracciato ] so precisely that the whole would have
been destroyed, had only a little more marble split off."
He worked with the left hand as well, by the way, as Raffaele
da Montelupo testifies, and when it came to particularly forceful
blows of the mallet, he used only his left. This use of the left hand
in art Michelangelo shared with Leonardo da Vinci, who was alto-
gether left-handed, however.
Michelangelo faced the difficult task of hewing a group of no
less than four figures from a single block, trusting only to his sure
eye and skill and with only a small wax model to go by; and for
the first time we see that he overestimated his practiced hand and
eye. He was intent on portraying his own inner torment and sor-
row; and there can be little question that despite the fiery zeal
with which he worked he placed his blows carefully. It was his
misfortune that the marble was worthless. It contained slate and
was so hard that the chisel often struck sparks.
Condivi reported in i553 on the work on this group: "At the
time he is engaged with a marble he is doing for his own pleasure,
like one who is so rich in energy and imagination that every day
must bring forth something. It is an overlifesize group, a Christ
taken from the cross and held upright by his mother. One sees her
in wonderful motion, enfolding the body with arms, knees and
breast, being assisted by Nicodemus, who stands firmly upright,
gripping the body under the arms, and by the other Mary on the
left. Grief-stricken as she is, Mary [Magdalene] nevertheless de-
0 Vigenere visited Michelangelo after i550, probably in 1553 when the master

was 78 years old.

400 Michelangelo
votes herself to this service, which is too hard for the mother un-
aided. . . . It is impossible to describe the beauty of the work and
of the emotions perceived in the sorrowing faces, especially of
the mother."
But Michelangelo was dissatisfied with the group; and one day
he smashed it to pieces. The Florentine sculptor Tiberio Cal-
cagni, for whom the master felt deep friendship, got hold of the
fragments. One day, when Michelangelo visited him in the house
where he kept the pieces, he inquired why so marvelous a work
had been destroyed. The master blamed his servant Urbino, who
had bedeviled him too insistently to finish it. Then, by mischance,
he had struck off a piece from the Madonna's elbow. When, in
addition, a fissure appeared in the marble, his patience was at an
end. He attacked the group with blows, and upon the pleas of
his servant Antonio, gave it to him, who in turn sold it to Tiberio
Calcagni for two hundred gold scudi.
Francesco Bandini, Michelangelo's intimate, was present and
asked whether Tiberio might not reassemble the group for him.
Permission was granted.
Michelangelo's last work was his farewell to marble, that stub-
born shell for the finest creations of his imagination. All his life
marble had given him limitless joy and sorrow; indeed, his life was
an unending duel with the stone.
The effect of the work on the mind of the beholder is enhanced
by its placement in the shadows of the choir of Santa Maria del
Fiore,'> where it merges with the gloom and the mysterious aura
of the church. In their pure gravity the noble features of Nicode-
mus, filled with sorrow, remind of Michelangelo's own, which, un-
der the group's original purpose as his own monument, they were
probably intended to depict. Vasari ( 1568) calls the Nicodemus
simply a self-portrait of Michelangelo.
0 The cathedral of Florence.
The Architect

WE HAVE SEEN that the time came when the aged master
could no longer paint. Afterward came the moment when he lost
the sureness of eye and hand, with which he had hewn his statues
from the marble.
Yet he still had before him a period of rich activity as an archi-
tect. About 1546 he began with a plan for remodeling the Capitol
square, whither he had had the equestrian statue of Marcus
Aurelius taken as early as 1538. It had until then stood in the Piazza
di San Giovanni in Laterano, graced since 1588 with the red gran-
ite obelisk of Thebes.
The fa~ade of the Palazzo Senatorio was first completely done
402 Michelangelo
over. The old loggia on the right side and the old stairway were
removed. Instead, after Michelangelo's drawing, the fine double
stairway and the portal with the river gods Nile and Tiber on
either side were put together. Between i550 and i555 Vignola
built the broad stairway that leads to Santa Maria in Aracoeli and
the Tarpeian Rock, with its loggias composed of three arches.
The work then rested for a number of years. In i560 it was
resumed. The piazza was encircled with a balustrade and the wide
access stairway was built. Not much more had been by the time
Michelangelo died. Two Senators, one of them Tommaso Cava-
lieri, were then charged with seeing to it that the work followed
his plan. The Palazzo dei Conservatori was erected-it was fin-
ished in 1568. Then the remodeling of the Palazzo Senatorio was
carried out by Giacomo della Porta. The third palazzo, opposite
the Palazzo dei Conservatori, was not done until the seventeenth
century. Yet, with a few deviations from the original plan, the
entire Piazza Capitolina with its blend of architecture and sculp-
ture represents Michelangelo's work.
To achieve a stronger effect and make the rather small square
look larger, he conceived the idea of having the two palazzi on the
side slant away at a slight angle; and he purposely gave them but
two stories, the lower ones opening up into colonnades. He ran
many of the great pillars up through the second story and gave
the buildings their flat roofs with the balustrades that bear statue
upon statue.
As was his wont from the time when he was planning the
fa~ade of San Lorenzo, Michelangelo sought to divide up the
outer wall surface, thus enlivening it. Thus at each side of the
entrances in the lower floor he erected a column, while the upper
fa~ade was almost entirely given to wide windows with column-
bome gables. In actual execution the windows were made some-
what smaller, to give the wall surface its architectural due. The ve-
hemence in Michelangelo's character is reflected in the sharp con-
trasts between horizontal building lines and vertical pilasters.
Careful scrutiny of a building like the Palazzo dei Conservatori
The Architect 403
conveys a powerful impression of Michelangelo's peculiarities as
an architect. He felt himself to be creative and he meant to dis-
play his originality without let or hindrance. It was more im-
portant to him that the building should bear the imprint of his
spirit than that it accorded with what was generally regarded and
felt to be normal and harmonious.
It is in point to dwell on the manner in which Michelangelo
ignored tradition, indeed, even rules that are anything but arbi-
trary. Here and on many other occasions he flew in the face of the
Vitruvian orthodoxy to which he paid lip service and which he per-
haps sincerely believed he maintained.
We have written testimony to this orthodoxy from the year
1545. The fa9ade of the Palazzo Farnese had been completed up
to the top cornice by Antonio da San Gallo the younger when
Paul III, who wanted to make a model structure of this family
palace, asked Michelangelo's opinion of the plan.
We have the draft of this opinion, badly written, outspoken,
couched in the harshest terms. It was clearly intended as a
devastating condemnation of Antonio da San Gallo's scheme.
Points one to six enumerate the main points by which a building,
according to Vitruvius, must be judged. Each of them, Michel-
angelo contended, was either bungled or missing altogether. Noth-
ing about this beautiful fa9ade found mercy before his eyes.
The result of this sweeping and thoroughly unfair critique was
that the pope asked all the leading architects of Rome to submit
plans for completing the building. One morning, as Paul sat at
breakfast in the Belvedere of the Vatican, all the plans were put
before him, in the presence of San Gallo. There were plans by
Perino del Vaga, a disciple of Raphael, and by Sebastiano del Pi-
ombo and Giorgio Vasari, disciples of Michelangelo. Vasari, in
addition, had with him a design drawn by Michelangelo himself,
who had given it to Vasari for submission when Vasari came to
consult him about his own design. Vasari was also to offer excuses
for Michelangelo's absence. Michelangelo was indeed at the time
not well enough to go out.
404 Michelangelo
The pope praised all the designs but "most of all that of the
divine Michelangelo," to quote Vasari. Paul III then demon-
stratively took the project away from Antonio da San Gallo and
entrusted completion of the Palazzo Farnese to Michelangelo.
San Gallo took the slight very hard. He died soon afterward,
in October i546. In i547 Michelangelo topped the fac,;ade with
his own cornice. But the bitterness engendered by the affair did
not die with San Gallo. His partisans perpetuated it for a long time,
and Michelangelo felt it for the rest of his life in the form of hos-
tility, both overt and covert, while he supervised the work on St.
In keeping with his invocation of Vitruvius and the ancient
style in the opinion he gave the pope, Michelangelo observed
greater stylistic purity an